Enemies and Allies (Johnny Swift Thrillers)

Written by Alan Bardos
Review by Julia Stoneham

The Johnny Swift novels form only part of Alan Bardos’ literary achievements, although they are probably the best known of his works. Enemies & Allies, set in 1916, is a classic espionage novel, loaded with complexities and with an intriguing cast list. Some, like Mata Hari, will be familiar to the reader; others, whether factual or not, bear evidence of research, captivating observation and even, in some cases, of flashes of welcome humour.

“Johnny” is the “drunken anti-hero” whose sexuality seems to be based on personal gratification rather than emotional involvement, raising issues with which his creator does not engage and which would probably involve an altogether different piece of work.

So… with spies, counter-spies and champagne, the action bowls along like an express train, full of incident and leaving very little room for any exploration of Johnny’s character. Some concern regarding his parentage smoulders distantly but never really ignites. This strand of the story seems incidental and even slightly distracting. There is the potential for a strong human interest story here, but Alan Bardos chooses not to go there.

The espionage plot is expertly and satisfactorily handled, and what little we are told of Johnny’s family history is plausible and intriguing, yet he remains an enigma, an outline only. So that one wants either more. Or less. This novel is a pleasure to read on many levels, but on others it does not ultimately deliver.