Publisher: Allen & Unwin (Trade Paperback – 19 January 2021)
Series: Standalone/Book One
Length: 392 pages
My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Prepare to dive into the world of international espionage as debuting author Jack Beaumont delivers an impressive and deeply authentic spy thriller with The Frenchman.
In these turbulent times, France faces threats from innumerable international enemies and terrorist attacks, and it falls to the members of the DGSE, also known as The Company, France’s famed foreign intelligence service, to discover dangers in their infancy and eliminate them. Alec de Payns is one of the top operatives of the top-secret Y Division of the DGSE, who take on the Company’s most dangerous international assignments. With a speciality in manipulating targets into turning against their country or revealing their secrets, de Payns is the man on the ground in many of these missions, ensuring that terrorists operations and illegal weapons programs pose no threat to his country.
During his latest operation in Palermo, Sicily, de Payns attempts to infiltrate a dangerous terrorist group who have their sights set on attacking France. However, before their planned contact and surveillance can begin in earnest, de Payns’s cover is blown and he is forced to flee from the scene, leaving behind two dead bodies. Returning to Paris, de Payns begins to suspect that he was betrayed by a fellow agent, forcing himself to consider that his life and the lives of his young family may be in danger.
With the threat of a potential traitor hanging over him, de Payns is sent on another urgent mission to Pakistan to investigate a secretive biological weapons facility that is rumoured to be producing a weaponised bacteria for an attack on France. In an attempt to gain information from within the facility, de Payns begins to establish a new identity to get closer to a person connected to the bacteria production. However, when he is once again compromised, de Payns must find out who has betrayed him and what their sinister plans for Paris are.
The Frenchman is a clever and exciting spy thriller from an intriguing new author that takes a detailed and captivating look at French foreign intelligence. This amazing new novel was written by Jack Beaumont, a pseudonym of a former French special operator who worked as part of the DGSE secret service. Having relocated to Australia, Beaumont has utilised his experiences to create an enthralling spy thriller, packed full of impressive detail and with a central character strongly based around the author himself. This results in an extremely thrilling and compelling novel that I found to be extremely addictive and which was a heck of a lot of fun to read.
This cool novel contains an epic and impressive story that sees the protagonist engage in a series of high-stakes espionage missions across the world. Told primarily from the point of view of the main character, Alex de Payns, The Frenchman’s narrative starts of as one of standard international espionage, with the complex and damaged protagonist engaging in some standard missions. However, the narrative quickly takes a turn into more dangerous territory when de Payns’s cover is blown and it is suspected that someone within his organisation set him up. Now forced to not only investigate a dangerous weapons facility but also determine who betrayed him, The Frenchman quickly becomes an impressive tale of treachery, paranoia and deceit, with de Payns finding his attention drawn in several different directions. Beaumont has crafted together an excellent and compelling narrative here, which unfolds in a methodical and deliberate pace. Every story element is intricately connected, and the reader has an excellent time seeing the protagonist engage in his operations while also attending to his personal missions and his fears over the mysterious traitor in the organisation. The author ensures that the story goes in some intriguing directions, with some captivating and suspenseful high-stakes scenes pulling the protagonist, his family and innumerable French citizens into lethal danger. Beaumont sticks in some great twists, especially around the DGSE traitor subplot, and I particularly loved the clever, if somewhat dark, ending. This amazing story blends in well with the author’s intriguing main protagonist and the insanely authentic detail to create an outstanding spy thriller that readers should be able to power through extremely quickly.
It is impossible to talk about The Frenchman without discussing the sheer level of detail that Beaumont shoves into the novel as he delves into the various aspects of spycraft and modern-day espionage operations. Readers get a major crash course in every aspect of French intelligence work, from how the organisation works, what sort of operations they run and the sort of people who are employed as French spies. There is also a huge focus on tradecraft, as the author meticulously details all the various tricks and procedures that operatives are required to perform during operations. Beaumont features so many cool examples of tradecraft throughout this book, including the creation and maintenance of legends, coming up with cover stories while undercover in other nations, the manipulation and management of contacts for information and how to run a successful surveillance operation. There is also a huge amount of focus on the various procedures operatives go through in everyday life, not just when they are on missions, including all the different countersurveillance and strategic movements that the protagonist utilises to ensure he is not being followed home. I also liked how the story depicted espionage missions as relatively low-key and less exciting than people familiar with Hollywood blockbusters would expect. Rather than the protagonist engaging in major action sequences or single-handedly taking out every single terrorist or spy he encounters, he instead performs complex surveillance operations or discrete undercover contacts, which allows his team to build up the intelligence they need to send in proper combat specialists. All of this proves to be incredibly fascinating, if a little overwhelming, and I really loved the sheer amount of authenticity that Beaumont brings to The Frenchman by exploring this tradecraft. While the story did occasionally get bogged down in jargon and acronyms, the author’s attention to detail and impressive insights made for a much more realistic story, which really stands out from some of the other spy thrillers out there.
In addition to this comprehensive examination of tradecraft and international espionage, I was also impressed with how Beaumont examined the psyche of an intelligence operative, highlighted the various struggles that people in this profession experience. As the story is primarily told from de Payns’s point of view, the readers get a great view of how his job as a spy impacts him: increased stress, panic attacks and a major sense of guilt due to some of the deaths attributed to him. The Frenchman also examines the strains that this job has on operative’s family life, and the author makes it clear that most marriages to spies do not last due to the constant secrecy and uncertainty. Beaumont does a particularly good job exploring this through de Payns, as the protagonist is constantly forced to keep things from his wife, while also disappearing for days at end, reappearing mentally wearied and afraid. These problems are further exacerbated by the overwhelming sense of paranoia that de Payns carries with him as he is constantly worried that his enemies will find out about his family and use them to manipulate or destroy him. For example, he becomes increasingly suspicious of a new family friend who his wife and kids welcome into their lives, and he spends time investigating them and their family, trying to determine if they are threats. Due to the story being told from de Payns’s perspective, this new character appears extremely suspicious, and the reader is uncertain whether they are an actual threat or a red herring brought on by the protagonist’s paranoia. This portrayal of the mindset of the spy is deeply compelling, and I really liked that the author took the time to dive into this, especially as he probably utilised his own experiences to make it even more detailed and realistic.
Debuting author Jack Beaumont has produced an epic and exciting read with The Frenchman, a clever and deeply compelling spy thriller that ruthlessly grabs the reader’s attention and refuses to let go. Filled with intense amounts of detail and dripping with authenticity, The Frenchman is an impressive and highly enjoyable novel that is strongly recommended. I had an absolute blast with this debut and I really hope that Beaumont continues to write more intriguing spy novels in the future.