The Spy Across the Water, by James Naughtie

14 Mar 2023

The Book

The Spy Across the Water
Pages: 416
Age Group: Adult
Published on 2 Mar 2023
Publisher: Head of Zeus
Available on:


We live with our history, but it can kill us.

Faces from the past appear from nowhere at a family funeral, and Will Flemyng, spy-turned-ambassador, is drawn into twin mysteries that threaten everything he holds dear.

From Washington, he's pitched back into the Troubles in Northern Ireland and an explosive secret hidden deep in the most dangerous but fulfilling friendship he has known.

And while he confronts shadowy adversaries in American streets, and looks for solace at home in the Scottish Highlands, he discovers that his government's most precious Cold War agent is in mortal danger and needs his help to survive.

In an electric story of courage and betrayal, Flemyng learns the truth that his life has left him a man with many friends, but still alone.  

My Review

The Spy Across the Water is the latest novel written by James Naughtie, and the third book following Will Flemyng's adventures. Ex-spy and ambassador in Washington DC, our story starts with the funeral of his brother Abel, who was killed in strange circumstances. Will is there not only to say goodbye, but to gather more information about how he died and who killed him.

After seeing somebody he might know at the funeral, Will starts to think about if that person might have extra information. To add complexity to the situation, as an ex-spy, Will can't start seeing eyes everywhere, and there is a rumour that the name of an important informant in Moscow has been leaked, something that would put that person in danger.

What we have is a really complex thriller, a story that will require most of our concentration, as there are several details that reveal more than you think at first. While saying this, I also have to admit that this book is super hooking, as once the story picked up, I found myself unable to put down this novel, especially once the story splits into several threads.
If Will's situation was complex, it only becomes even more complex, especially once he has to send Keane to Chicago, in order to meet an informant that could tell him more about Abel's death; and in Scottland, his other brother, Mungo, gets attacked as a sort of warning, putting even more pressure over the ambassador.

The historical situation is embodied in a perfect way, becoming an excellent reflection of how tense were those times. While all of those characters are just part of Naughtie's imagination, this novel could pass as historical fiction, due to how accurate is in some details.

Personally, I find The Spy Across the Water an excellent novel, with a plot that engages you from the first page, and takes you for a ride until the end. If you like spy-thriller stories, in the style of Le Carré, do yourself a favour and pick this book.

The Author/s

James Naughtie

James Naughtie

James Naughtie is a special correspondent for BBC News, for which he has reported from around the world. He presented Today on BBC Radio 4 for 21 years. This is his third novel, and his most recent book is an account of five decades of travel and work in the United States – On the Road: American Adventures from Nixon to Trump. He lives in Edinburgh and London