Jack Beaumont is the nom de plume for a former French fighter pilot turned spy for the French foreign secret service, the DGSE, who has now turned his hand to writing espionage fiction — and this is his first.
“The Frenchman” is moulded like a le Carré novel. Forget your super-agents like Court Gentry and Ethan Smoak, who go into every situation guns blazing (and whose violent escapades I am addicted to) — for Alec de Payns it’s all about long, detailed mission prep: staking out locations, trailing suspects, ruminating about possible scenarios. The tradecraft of espionage is all about nailing the mundane details, Alec has been trained to kill, but if gunplay’s involved, it’s a sign things have gone to shit. And in “The Frenchman” things very much have gone to shit.
Dealing with the fallout of a bad operation in Palermo and the possibility of a mole inside the secretive Y Division of the DGSE, Alec is tasked to investigate a secret biological weapons facility in Pakistan. It’s not a one-man infiltration job — you’d have to call Ethan Hunt for that — but an assignment for a small team, whose mission is essentially to sit, and wait, and look. It soon becomes apparent the facility is manufacturing a weaponised bacteria capable of killing millions — and Paris is their target. These are some very powerful, very well connected terrorists, whose reach quite possibly extends into the DGSE itself — painting a target on the backs of Alec’s wife, Romy, and their two children.
Beaumont’s steady escalation of the risks Alec faces, and the exceedingly realistic ways he tackles them, make “The Frenchman” an exemplary addition to the genre. Most impressively, for a guy who has been there and done it, he never burdens the reader with superfluous info dumps; there’s no heavy detailing of weaponry or gadgets. And he cleverly works in the familiar “family in peril” trope without divesting Romy’s agency, or casting her as a damsel in distress.
The writing is smooth, the plotting precise. This is good, le Carré -esque entertainment.