A Spy Alone by Charles Beaumont

By setting this book in the present time but having an older, now working privately, spy as the protaganist, you get the best of both modern and old-time spy work in this book. OSINT is used, Open source intelligence, plus pass-by drops all in one story that goes backwards and forwards between 2022 and 1993.

When old spies meet in shabby pubs to lament the state of the modern world, one of the things they say is that nobody learns the old skills. Anti-surveillance, counter-surveillance, it’s all been forgotten. These days, its all done by tracking your phone, those little beacons we all carry with us, shining out to any of the world’s intelligence agencies.


The spy, Simon Sharman, is asked to investigate a Russian who wants to donate money to a university and the university doesn’t want to be involved in dirty money. Sharman looks into the Russian but not everything is as it seems. It very soon turns into a much larger investigation into the heart of whether there was a spy ring at Oxford and if so, where are they now. A little problematic for Sharman who was present at Oxford during the time this was all going on.

It turns out that the UK via the prime minister is about to do a deal with Russia, through oligarchs, to develop a large data cable so the book follows a theme of the way Russian money is so deeply embedded in our economy: property in London; investments in infrastructure and general spending power. Very relevant.

I loved some of the detail. For instance, when Sharman is followed he looks at the shoes of the people around him to spot when the shoes reappear. Those tracking him changed their clothing but not their shoes and so he was able to find the people who were ‘boxing’ him in as they tracked him.

It is their shoes that give them away. As a lifelong fieldman, Simon Sharman hasn’t forgotten the lesson: walkers might change their jackets, pull on a pair of glasses, even a wig. But nobody changes their shoes on a job. Look at their shoes.


A great book that I read in two sittings. I enjoyed it much more than the short stories.

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