Review: Agents of the State by Mike Nicol

FF’s Star Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Featuring characters from some of the Cape Town based author Mike Nicol’s previous novels, Agents of the State is a crime thriller revolving around numerous players, including the South African president and his son. Some people just get involved with the wrong people. They find out a little bit too late that they’ve made the wrong choice. Some people decide to run far away after realizing their mistake. The only question is: are they really safe, wherever they are?

Vicki Kahn, a woman living the “everything-will-be-revealed-in-due-course” life of the spies, gets sent off to Schiphol to get a flash drive from a woman named Linda Nchaba. She does find Linda, but warning text messages spook Linda effectively. Things happen then. Linda gets captured, and Vicki soon finds herself in Berlin. Her handler is a bit vague about why she needs to be there, but the man she meets there has some interesting information regarding a murdered relative.

Here we have ourselves a world in which regular people are completely oblivious to inconspicuous government agents that walk among them, on their way to complete their missions like any other envelope a postman on a bicycle might be intent on delivering. Meanwhile, the president enjoys his honey as well as his dictatorship of a reign. Caution is a must. Even for a spook, a plan can quickly come to an end in a storm of bullets.

When Vicki is not doing her spy work, she plays herself some poker online. Henry Davidson, her handler, only reveals enough information for her to get from a current point to the next, referencing Alice in Wonderland whenever the chance presents itself. Her boyfriend Fish, a personal investigator with the side hustle of selling marijuana to a select few, is out there on his own missions as well. Unbeknownst to Vicki and Fish, they’re paths will converge.

Set for the most part in South Africa, this novel can give readers from other countries a good idea of what South Africans are like. Perhaps one could say that is novel’s major strength: South African characters complete with phrases one would typically hear coming out of a South African’s mouth. The short chapters and the unrelenting pace of this novel make it easy for readers to follow more or less a dozen different plot threads.

Though it is an engaging thriller one wouldn’t want to be interrupted from reading, Nicol’s writing style begs for a bit of getting used to at first. The author tells the story the way a person might when relating it over to another human being in words rather than writing. Fish needs information from a spook guy named Mart Velaze regarding an old friend. Though every other answer is given, the information Fish wants isn’t one of them.

Dreaming of becoming a spy and actually being one are two different things. Vicki Kahn, having practiced law before she became one, finds out exactly that. Mike Nicol gradually shows readers that one’s life might belong to anyone but oneself – there might just be other forces out there pulling the strings. I recommend this book to fans of fast paced crime thrillers that has one unsure of who the villain is until it comes out of the horse’s mouth.

Free paperback received from Penguin Random House SA.

Kindle Edition:

Publisher: Umuzi
Date Published:
September 1, 2016
Crime Fiction

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