The Enemy : A Desmond Bagley’s Novel Review

So, for my (literally) last English reading assignment in my 12 years of school, I got this Oxford book entitled “The Enemy”. It was originally written by Desmond Bagley. Happy reading my summary! And yes, if you’re wondering,it has spoilers.

Not being in the mood to really study that night, I made a cup of coffee and took my The Enemy copy with me to the study room. If the characters of this book turned out to be depressed and misunderstood sort of people like in my previous reading, I thought to myself, I would close it and spend the hours sipping the coffee. Or chatting.

Which was, thankfully, the exact opposite of what I’d done that night. But how could you stop reading such a fast-moving, intelligently-arranged, unpredictable novel even if it has been abridged? When science met politic and the long buried secret was in danger of being exposed? When professionality was tested by love and idealism? To keep you from not wondering a second longer, here’s a short synopsis.

Malcolm Jaggard introduced himself as an economist to most people, including his hopefully father-in-law to-be George Ashton. He had been dating his lovely daughter, Penelope Ashton, for several weeks then and definitely found the biologist/geneticist attractive. He was spending a Sunday with the Ashtons when the first tragedy marking the beginning of this novel occured. Penelope’s own sister, Gillian, was thrown acid on the face by a stranger.

Penny was sad, and Malcolm can’t think of any explanation of the stranger’s behaviour. But Mr. Ashton reaction was the most confusing of all. He suggested –almost insisted- on Malcolm proposing Penny and taking a job in Australia. Weird, right? And because Malcolm was actually a spycatcher, and has access to secret databases, he used this to find who Ashton might be. It shocked him to find that George Ashton’s bio was not accessible to his level, red, and can only be accessed by those of black levels. And it shocked him more when his boss instructed him to guard both Penny and George Ashton.

But just as Malcolm arranged his spying plan, George Ashton disappeared. His letter explained little –if any- reason why, merely indicating his sudden departure with his servant Benson was to protect Penny and he wished Penny and Malcolm happiness. Nevertheless, no further information on Ashton made Malcolm’s work impossible, and he insisted on access to Ashton’s bio in the office’s secret database which his boss, however illegally and reluctantly, gave to him.

George Ashton turned out to be Aleksandr Chelyuskin, a genious Russian scientist who ‘retired’ from weapon lab’s work, faked his death, and moved to Britain. Here he ‘stole’ a dead man’s identity, got married, even developed a business that had made him quite rich. Unless for the business, even his own daughters knew nothing of these.

The police finally found the man who threw acid at Gillian’s face, but Mayberry – that’s what he was called – had nothing to do with George Ashton. So George Ashton’s fear might be wrong after all (the man wanted to harm Penny Ashton for interfering with God’s creatures, but he got the wrong girl). No sooner had he discovered this fact than he discovered that his other boss, Cregar the politician, had been seeing Penny’s professor, Lumsden. Things just got more suspicious.

Then finally George Ashton and Benson were seen in Stockholm, both under different names. Of course Malcolm and his men were at him for once, but things were a lot more complicated that they had anticipated for Russians were spying on Ashton as well. Malcolm got Ashton at last, but hardly had they began talking than a bullet shot through his head by, wait for it, Benson himself! Benson was then shot by one of Malcolm’s man, Henty. But not before he died did Ashton gave Malcolm a train timetable.

Malcolm and his team then went back to England. Most head departments agreed that this failure had proved Malcolm’s lack of competence to undertake the job. However, Ogilvie wanted him to continue , and wanting to see from different angle, Malcolm looked for Benson. Much to his amazement, Benson’s file had disappeared, so Malcolm alerts his superior about it. Suspicions arose. Malcolm tracked Benson’s record to the army (where he worked some thirty years ago) and found that the real Benson had died before 1947. I thought to myself, great. Another impostor to add to the drama. Even more, Benson was actually a spy for Cregar.

Malcolm then realized the model railway that was hidden at Ashton’s house is actually a computer with lots of studies about genetics. At the same time, Penny disappears. Malcolm goes after her and finds her in government’s secret lab in a remote island ran by Cregar. There he saw Penny lying on a bed, badly ill from new bacteria in the lab. Cregar refused to take her to the hospital because of ‘security risk’ and in turn Malcolm blamed him for not taking Penny’s advice on the lab’s safety. This initiated a hard feeling between the two men, and they ended up breaking a glass containing new mutant bacteria. Realizing the danger, Cregar fought his way out but fainted halfway to the door.

Malcolm managed to make contact with one of his man, so that three of them can be transported safely to the mainland. After extensive care from the best doctors from the U.S, Penny recovered. Unfortunately Malcolm wasn’t as lucky, for the unknown bacteria in the lab had caused him malignant cancer and he was to live no more than a year.

I was totally satisfied of the story until this part. Why didn’t Desmond Bagley make a fairy-tale ending for Penny and Malcolm? So Malcolm retired, and spent his last months with Penny in Ireland. Here Malcolm wrote about what things government do in the name of ‘the people’, and how they control things like science and media while Penny took a great care nursing and proofreading his writing. I didn’t know how short their happiness last, for the brightest fire blaze the shortest. But happiness, nevertheless.

oxford cover

This is the best Oxford book I have read for I didn’t put it down until I finished reading it. In my opinion, it makes sense that government controls things because it’s their job to protect the people. It only gets worse if people like Cregar dominates it. However, from the scale 1 to 10, well, I give this book a twelve!

“We have met The Enemy,
and he is us”

written by Tamara Ey Firsty


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