About Me

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Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada
I am a lawyer in Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada who enjoys reading, especially mysteries. Since 2000 I have been writing personal book reviews. This blog includes my reviews, information on and interviews with authors and descriptions of mystery bookstores I have visited. I strive to review all Saskatchewan mysteries. Other Canadian mysteries are listed under the Rest of Canada. As a lawyer I am always interested in legal mysteries. I have a separate page for legal mysteries. Occasionally my reviews of legal mysteries comment on the legal reality of the mystery. You can follow the progression of my favourite authors with up to 15 reviews. Each year I select my favourites in "Bill's Best of ----". As well as current reviews I am posting reviews from 2000 to 2011. Below my most recent couple of posts are the posts of Saskatchewan mysteries I have reviewed alphabetically by author. If you only want a sentence or two description of the book and my recommendation when deciding whether to read the book look at the bold portion of the review. If you would like to email me the link to my email is on the profile page.

Friday, October 22, 2021

Changing The Old Enemy

As I read The Old Enemy by Henry Porter I thought the old spy, Robert Harland, killed in the opening pages had a fleeting familiarity. After completing the book and looking at my reading of Porter books I found out he was the protagonist in three books I had read and enjoyed. They were A Spy’s Life, Empire State and Brandenburg.

Since I read the last of that trio in 2009 I understood why my memory was but vague of the distinguished spy.

My favourite was A Spy’s Life which had a spectacular opening. Harland falls from the sky into the East River as his U.N. plane crashes while plane landing in New York City. Harland is the only survivor.

The Old Enemy is the third in a trilogy featuring Paul Samson as the lead character. It wraps up the lives of a pair of characters and two series.

Porter is a skilled writer of what I would term thrillers. Wilbur Smith uses a different phrase, “adventure writer”. It is an apt description of Smith’s books. I still think of Porter as more a writer of thrillers than adventures.

Porter was a winner of a Wilbur Smith Adventure Writing Prize in 2019 for Firefly, one of the Samson books.

In an interview a few years ago with the Wilbur Smith and Niso Smith Foundation, Porter, when asked if there were of writers who “made a lasting impact” on him said:

Yes, but they are generally not thriller or adventure writers. I have always greatly admired John Buchan, Mark Twain, Forsyth, Le Carre’s early books, Primo Levi, Austen, Orwell, Wodehouse, Tolstoy (the short stories, especially) and the great nature writer Barry Lopez, who is a remarkable!

As with Le Carre he travels to the places about which he writes in his fiction. In the same interview he stated:

Vital to get this right. I spend a lot of time in the field.

I continue to think Porter missed a wonderful opportunity to write an unconventional conclusion to the respective sagas of Harland and Samson. Normally, in fiction and real life, we expect, as supported by actuarial tables, that the aged will die before a younger generation. 

Yet the most dynamic characters of The Old Enemy were the older characters. Robert Harland, Denis Hisami and Ulrike Klaar (Harland’s wife) all had a sparkle to their personalities.

It was Samson and Anastasia Hisami, the younger though not young characters, who were the earnest ones. They were the characters wearied and worn by the dramas and tragedies of life.

The older trio were leading the way in exposing a grand conspiracy when Harland and Hisami were eliminated from the plot and Ulrike consigned to a supporting role.

The trio had lost none of the vigour which carried them through the Cold War and into the present millenium. 

It is Samson who is ready to withdraw from intelligence work and Anastasia who is content to assist Hisami.

There are a pair of young characters in Rudi Rosenharte, Ulrike’s son, and Zoe Fremantle, Harland’s daughter born long into his life, who have the enthusiasm to take up the fight against the old and the new enemy.

I would have loved to have seen them interacting with the older spies for the whole book.

Writers have so many choices with their characters.


Porter, Henry - (2003) - A Spy's Life; (2004) - Empire State (Tied for third Best fiction in 2004); (2004) – Remembrance Day; (2005) – Brandenburg; (2009) - The Dying Light; (2021) - The Old Enemy; Hardcover


  1. It is interesting, isn't it, Bill, how characters can feel so alive, so full of energy, etc., even if they are older. Younger characters can sometimes feel just the opposite. I wonder if, in part, it's about how much interest a character has in life. I ought to reflect on this more, because I can think of several fictional characters who are older, but who seem more energetic - more full of life - than their younger counterparts. As you say, authors have a lot of choices...

    1. Margot: Thanks for the comment. I also wonder if our personal ages reflect how we think of energetic older characters!