In the post-9/11 world, spies and the world of espionage has become a far more serious affair, as evidenced by TV shows like MI-5, and the re-launch of the Bond franchise with Daniel Craig. The suave, rogue agent taking on the world has become scarce in fiction, relegated to an anachronism. But David Snowdon gives us the retro-hero in his novel The Mind of a Genius. Jason Clay enters the world of Bond-like secret agents, a playboy with a taste for danger and a weakness for femme fatales. He is sent out to retrieve a secret project, bed some beauties, and thwart rival intelligence agents.
If this all sounds kinda '60s, the plot is set squarely in modern day. The story unfolds as a world-renowned scientist, Malcolm Prince, is found dead. He had been working on a top secret project that was attracting a lot of attention from the usual suspects: MI-5 and the CIA, and the unusual: Danish intelligence, Chinese criminals. The book spins into high gear intertwining a number of parallel stories. Center to the action is Jason Clay, but one of the more interesting characters is Robert Hopson, a luckless stiff drawn into the plot through the machinations of — you guessed it — a femme fatale.
The plot was interesting, but the writing occasionally pulled the book down. One particular glaring annoyance was the repetitive use of the verb “regarded” as in “she regarded him, he regarded her, etc.” Another was that Snowdon would tell us exactly what each character was wearing in each scene as a separate paragraph. Sometimes less is more. In sketching some interesting characters, he should let their words and actions flesh them out to the reader.
The climax of the book is satisfying to be sure, and it leaves the door open for further adventures with Jason Clay. For all his retro-stylings, he actually grew on me through the book. I thought the shtick would tire, but his character goes through some changes in the book - subtle, but enough to make Clay more palatable for the reader.
The Mind of a Genius has an interesting plot, but it's weighed down by some weak writing in spots and a sometimes confusing mix of scenes. With a little cleaning up and cutting of scenes this could have been a good addition to the thriller genre. Snowdon has potential; it would be interesting to see where he goes with his work.