|THE SPIDER DANCE
Nick Setchfield (www.nicksetchfield.com)
Titan Books (titanbooks.com)
Christopher Winter, no longer working for British Intelligence, finds himself recruited by London’s gangland. But you’re never really “out” of the security services, as Winter discovers when he is summoned by his old boss. Tasked with getting Alessandra Moltini out of Budapest, Winter quickly realises there is more to this mission than London has told him. Alessandra is a succubus who knew Winter in his previous incarnation: the magician Tobias Hart. She leads him to the self-professed leader of her kind, who in turn introduces Winter to the Shadowless and their fabled king, who they want him to assassinate. The secret of how to do this lies in a collection of long-buried caskets containing the hearts of ancient kings. As the pressure builds, Winter begins to remember his own long-buried past and the wartime operation that destroyed who he was before.
Christopher Winter first appeared in Nick Setchfield’s excellent 2018 debut, The War in the Dark. When we are reacquainted with him at the start of The Spider Dance, we find him working for one of London’s most notorious gangsters, before receiving a summons back to the shadowy world of Cold War-era British Intelligence. Taking advantage of the excuse to get out of the city, Winter heads through the Iron Curtain where he meets the beautiful Alessandra Moltini who, it turns out, is not your average woman, but a succubus who has worked with Winter before, when he was Tobias Hart – a period of his life that has been wiped from his memory. As one thing leads inevitably to the next, Winter eventually finds himself in the middle of a plot to kill the most powerful vampire in Europe while the magic that he wielded with such ease during the Second World War is slowly but surely returning to him.
The Spider Dance is slow to start, but we hardly notice as Setchfield introduces us to his characters and attempts to embed us in this London of 1965 that is almost, but not quite, exactly like our own. Much of the first half of the novel seems to take place in a series of fits and starts, brief interludes that don’t quite flow, and feel like a series of short stories quickly stitched together to form a coherent whole. While it serves to introduce us to Winter and to this world, it does little else in terms of the overall story, which kicks into high gear – and feels like a completely different book – after reaching the halfway mark.
As Setchfield introduces the Erovores and Shadowless, we find ourselves in the middle of a war that spans the width of Europe but which is completely unknown to the world’s human inhabitants. Supernatural creatures – incubi and succubi on the one side; vampires on the other – battle it out for overall supremacy. Now, as they say, we’ve got a whole new ball game. Winter quickly finds himself in the centre of this war, playing one side against the other and trying to stay one step ahead of everyone else. From here, the story is gripping and masterfully plotted, a solid, tense read that moves at pace towards an unexpected climax that leaves the field wide open for Winter’s return in future adventures.
John LeCarré seen through the lens of urban fantasy, The Spider Dance is some of the best Cold War espionage fiction being written today. The supernatural element means that fans of LeCarré, Forsyth and Deighton are likely to miss out on a series of novels that would otherwise be right up their alley, but it’s a bonus for those of us looking for fresh new takes on well-worn tropes. Much better than last year’s The War in the Dark, The Spider Dance is the work of an author constantly improving his craft and a cracking read to boot. The perfect choice to pack for your summer holidays, The Spider Dance works well without knowledge of the first book in the series, though I would highly recommend you start at the beginning. Nick Setchfield is an author to watch and Christopher Winter is a character who will stick with you long after the book is finished.