A Book Spy Review: ‘The Agency’ by James Phelan


The agencySet in 2005, Jed Walker returns for a fifth time out in James Phelan’s latest novel, The Agency.

Following a ten-year career in the Air Force as part of their special ops division, Jed Walker joins the CIA rather than take a desk job, then breezes through their training program. While other recruits stumble and fail to live up to expectations, Walker exceeds them — and impresses his superiors. 

In no time, Walker is approached to carry out his first mission, though the details are a little sketchy from the get-go. Rather than head overseas, Legendary CIA operative Harold Richter tasks Walker with heading to New Orleans, Louisiana, where he’ll have no backup and no official ties to the world’s premier spy agency. Walker heads out and gets started, but quickly finds his path crossing with Steph Mensch, an attractive British agent working on behalf of MI6. It turns out that both Walker and Steph have been sent to monitor a yacht full of Russians, who are in the area to make a splashy purchase.

Walker’s job is to find out what they’re buying and who’s selling it, but things take a turn when Steph is kidnapped, forcing Walker to make tough choices that could have devastating consequences not only for himself and Steph, but also for the nation he’s sworn to protect. To save the day, he’ll need to go off-mission, and with Hurricane Katrina barreling down on New Orleans, there’s very little time to act, and absolutely no room for error. . . 

Jed Walker’s first mission with the CIA is a doozie, and James Phelan does a fine job slowly revealing the big picture to readers, building plenty of tension and suspense along the way. The characters are developed nicely, especially Walker and Steph, and by dropping this fictional plot into such a significant moment of American history, the story has a very real feel to it. Plenty of writers have tried to pull off stories against the backdrop of Hurricane Katrina, but few have succeeded. While James Lee Burke is still the gold standard there, Phelan does a fine job himself. 

If there’s a negative to be had, it’s that Walker feels a tad too perfect in the beginning. Asking readers to believe anyone can breeze through the CIA’s training requires suspending your disbelief, but that’s hardly something to get upset over. On the other hand, many readers may find a certain line in the beginning about members of the United States Army to be at best distasteful, and at worst offensive. 

Overall, James Phelan’s The Agency is a top-notch spy thriller that continues to develop Jed Walker into a formidable protagonist on par with Jack Reacher and John Wells.

Book Details

Author: James Phelan
Series: Jed Walker #5
Pages: 350 (Hardcover)
ISBN: 1681440075
Publisher: Quercus
Release Date: May 8, 2018
Book Spy Rating: 7.0/10




Praised as “one of today’s finest book reviewers” by New York Times bestselling author Gayle Lynds, Ryan Steck is the editor-in-chief of The Real Book Spy, and one of the thriller genre’s most well-recognized critics. He currently lives in southwest Michigan with his wife and their five children. For more information, make sure to follow him on Twitter and Facebook


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