The Maghreb Conspiracy Reviews

THE intense, riveting final instalment of Croft’s [Operation Saladin, 2013, etc.] Mideast trilogy.
MI6 agent and former journalist Michael Vaux is once more brought back into the fray in Croft’s latest suspenseful dramatic thriller. Happily housesitting for an ex-lover and relieved to be retired from the danger and strain of espionage, Vaux is dismayed to hear that his services are needed yet again. MI6, a subgroup of Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service, has begun a new operation, reluctantly choosing Sebastian Micklethwait, their newest man, to lead the project, despite his inexperience. As a cautionary measure, MI6 has decided to lure successful and savvy Vaux back in the game as a sort of chaperone for Micklethwait.  The risky operation, involving the defection of a high-ranking Al Qaeda operative and the promise of priceless information handed to MI6, grows more complicated and dangerous when the liaison between the official and MI6 is found brutally murdered.
Vaux rejoins the murky tense world of chasing shadows and hunting terrorists and soon discovers that this current operation is far more threatening than the ones he has taken on before. He’s forced to outsmart a competing CIA  agent as well as the underground of the Moslem Maghreb; meanwhile, Micklethwait is kidnapped , raising the stakes even more.  Will Vaux be able to keep apace of the agents and double agents who conspire to derail his mission? Clashes of culture, faith and motive escalate as lives are put at risk and no one proves trustworthy. Woven with historical fact and modern conflict, Vaux’s triumphant return for one last nail-biting mission proves to be a rewarding and satisfying end to this trilogy. Readers who appreciated the rumpled and unlikely hero before, will celebrate his latest success and the deftness with which he bests his enemies. In fast-paced straightforward prose, the substantive tale weaves together tension, romance and humor as Vaux once more emerges as a likable, admirable hero who carries a complicated plot with aplomb. A gripping conclusion to a spy series piloted by a relatable, enjoyable hero.
Set more than a decade after the events of the first book [The Wayward Spy] which deals with Michael Vaux’s entanglement with an old university friend turned high-ranking Syrian military official,  ‘The Maghreb Conspiracy’ abandons the politics of Syria and Palestine for a backdrop of British and American interests in Morocco.
Set in the mid-2000s during a spate of Islamist terrorist attacks–including the Madrid and London bombings in 2004 and 2005 respectively–the novel sees Vaux called in to work [again] for Department B3, an under-staffed, semi-autonomous subdivision of MI6…
Department B3’s newest recruit, a young man with no field experience named Sebastian Micklethwait, needs help to make contact with a would-be defector from Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb [AQIM]. The man supposed to engineer the meeting is murdered on the overnight train to Tangier, while Micklethwait sleeps in the adjoining compartment.
Convinced that the defector will try and reestablish contact of his own accord, Vaux advises Micklethwait to hang around, looking ‘British’ until someone approaches him. Unfortunately, while trawling for young, attractive foreign girls in a hotel bar one night, Micklethwait gets drunk enough to believe that a limousine is a taxi. Big mistake. The limo is in fact a get-away car, no doubt selected by Micklethwait’s kidnappers for its renowned helpfulness in keeping a low profile…
Croft’s intrest in regional politics here plays second fiddle to the tangled web of communications between secret agents, some of whom are playing a double or even triple game…
The book paints an unflattering portrait of Morocco’s monarchy, the militant Islamists trying to overthrow it and the Americans supporting it, as well as the unfailingly incompetent Brits with fingers in the pie.
‘The Maghreb Conspiracy’ is an easy and for the most part enjoyable read…Croft can retire the [Vaux] character safe in the knowledge that the trilogy’s final installment is a fitting farewell.
India Stoughton
A wet-behind-the-ears agent, Sebastian Micklethwait lands an exremely sensitive assignment. Micklethwait is to travel with facilitator Mokhtar Tawil to Morocco where Tawil will help him connect with a member of al-Qaeda’s executive committee who’s offered to provide valuable intelligence on the group’s plans. The mission, dubbed Operation Apostate, goes awry almost immediately. Tawil is murdered on the first leg of their trip and Micklethwait himself is taken prisoner.
It falls to Vaux, who’s been tapped to oversee Operation Apostate, to try to rescue the agent and salvage whatever can be salvaged…
Vaux is a familiar genre staple, a maverick who gets results [and] the locales make this novel worth the read…
Croft’s style of writing is perfectly matched to the rythm of a good spy novel. That is to say that he moves along at a good, solid pace, and his ancillary characters get just the amount of character make them interesting but not steal the limelight from the star of the story.
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l have been itching to get my hands on Roger Croft’s latest book in his spy trilogy, having read and enjoyed enormously his opener: The Wayward Spy, and his second, Operation Saladin. Can his third, The Maghreb Conspiracy, possibly top these first two in storyline, excitement, unputdownability…? Yes! Yes! and Yes! The story begins with our now quasi-retired MI6 agent Michael Vaux enjoying the tranquil atmosphere of a villa on loan to him just outside Tangier.
He is then unexpectedly called by the Secret Intelligence Service [SIS] head of station in Rabat: it transpires that a new recruit, Sebastian Micklethwait, still wet-behind-the ears professionally, has disappeared , abducted possibly by a local al-Qaeda cell outside a nightclub on Tangier’s Corniche. Micklethwait had earlier escorted from London an envoy of a possible defector from al-Qaeda. But the envoy is assassinated on the Paris-Madrid night-train. Micklethwait is arrested by the Spanish police, questioned, then released.
George Greaves, the MI6 station chief, now asks Michael Vaux to find his young colleague as well as locate the would-be defector. His search spreads from Tangier’s narrow, winding streets and alleyways to Melilla, a Spanish enclave on the North African coast. In his quest, Vaux makes new contacts, meets old collaborators, the occasional triple agent and other dubious acquaintances plus an Honorary Consul whose character is touchingly flawed.
The Maghreb Conspiracy is a roller-coaster of a read! Loved it from start to finish!   *****
Adam McCrum, Suffolk, UK   [on]
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Michael Vaux, the reluctant and one-time wayward spy, comes in from the cold again to try and sort out another mess MI6’s Dept. B3 has got itself into. B3, it will be recalled, is the specialist sub-group of MI6’s Middle East and North African desk, whose trials, tribulations and triumphs Croft has eloquently recorded in his two previous books–The Wayward Spy and Operation Saladin.
Vaux had semi-retired after the successful completion of ‘Operation Saladin’  when he single-highhandedly delivered the critical ‘Syrian-Said’ dossier that would reveal all the facts about Syria’s nuclear arms program, its inventory of chemical weapons and conventional arms plus its Order of Battle.
Now he’s house-sitting in Tangier at the Villa Mauresque, once owned by his late friend Ahmed Kadri, former arms buyer for Syria, and now in the hands of Kadri’s niece, Vaux’s former lover.  [Safa, the niece, is now married to a British doctor and is pre-occupied in the UK–hence Vaux’s house-sitting assignment.]
Vaux is enjoying what he calls his ‘splendid isolation’ in romantic old Tangier when Sir Nigel Adair, B3’s boss, asks him to help find a high-ranking member of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb [AQIM] who had chosen to betray his cause and wants political asylum [and a good career in counter-intelligence] in return for handing over AQIM’s plans to create mayhem in North Africa. The would-be defector had sent an envoy to London to arrange everything before he returned to Morocco with a junior MI6 agent to help in the Al-Qaeda operative’s eventual clandestine escape to Britain.
But things go wrong. The envoy is assassinated on the luxury Paris-Madrid night train, and Micklethwait, the young MI6 probationer, is arrested by the Spanish police who have little to go on except that the young agent was the last man seen with the victim–in the train’s dining car around midnight. Once out of the clutches of the Spanish police, Spains intelligence outfit contacts MI6 and Micklethwait is released. He is ordered to proceed to Tangier, his original destination, to help Vaux locate the would-be defector.
So far, so good. But three days later, Micklethwait is kidnapped outside a nightclub on Tangier’s hot and sultry Corniche–and now Vaux has to search for two people, the defector and the young MI6 agent.
His quest leads him through the dusty, winding streets of Tangier [once called ‘the nest of spies’] and beyond the city limits to exotic Melilla, a Spanish enclave in North Africa, and to storied Casablanca. Double and triple agents with malleable loyalties lead Vaux into a maze as puzzling as the labyrinthine streets of the old medina where this compelling story plays itself out. Along the way, we meet up with a jihadist ‘from London’s Edgware Road’, various collaborators with interreleated terrorist cells, a morally compromised British honorary consul, and finally with the CIA whose operative in Tangier clashes with Vaux over the best way forward.
Croft’s strength is in his well-drawn characters and in his sparse prose. Also, he successfully navigates the cross-currents of international politics–not seeing the world in stark black and white terms [the good guys v. the baddies] but in multiple shades of gray. A dazzling and unpredictable climax makes this final book in Croft’s spy trilogy impossible to put down. *****
–George M. Scott, Toronto  [on]
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When a man knocking on his door that evening turns out to be an old colleague of Michael Vaux from MI6, Vaux knows it is not likely to go well. Someone in Beirut has found the identities of dozens of MI6 agents and assets in the Middle East and MI6 wants Vaux to head for the dangerous city to sort it all out.
Solid writing. Good plot. Reasonably good pace…The first three books make up the author’s Mideast trilogy and should be read in order to make sense. The fourth book [WAREHOUSE OF SOULS] should be read after the trilogy to keep making sense.
But the books should be read. Good series.
My grade: B+
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