What I am not, however, is a sucker for a love story. Not generally my thing at all. So, The Company We Keep was, at least in part, nowhere near my postcode, let alone my street.
Bob, by contrast, had a cosmopolitan and well-travelled childhood and had made a successful career as a field officer in the CIA, specialising in being stationed in countries undergoing political upheaval.
The two meet for the first time in the course of an operation in
Bosnia and the book describes how their relationship grows, including a rather memorable drive from Bosnia to the south of for dinner, which all sounds rather glamorous, as do some of the other episodes in the book. France
But the glamour is deceptive and the book reveals far more about the corrosive nature of spying and the effect it has on the character and lives of its practitioners. Dayna had, to all intents and purposes, deserted her first spouse, a judge in
California, when she was assigned to work outside the by the CIA and Bob’s marriage had, according to the book, been in trouble for some time when he first met Dayna. To cap it all, Bob admits to having a very distant relationship with his kids and Dayna is upset when she goes home to spend time with her father, only to find that he has found an “adopted” daughter, another woman with whom he has a paternal relationship and prefers to spend time that with Dayna. USA
Both, and Bob in particular, appear to take a very cynical view of human relationships. In one episode, Bob uses his own mother, a charming and sociable individual, to entice a KGB officer to become an agent for the CIA and strikes up a friendship with him for just this purpose. He then arranges a meeting for the potential double agent with another CIA officer. Unfortunately, this officer turns out to be the treacherous Aldrich Ames, who betrays him to the KGB. For her part, Dayna doesn’t even know the real names of her work colleagues, as they use aliases even with each other.
The world of espionage that the Baers paint for us is one of deceit and isolation, where agents cannot engage fully in the world around them for fear of discovery or betrayal. It’s a world where friendships aren’t given but are bought and where paranoia is a constant. It doesn’t seem a particularly salubrious place, even for someone like me who would quite liked to have been an intelligence agent. It certainly seems closer to the le Carré end of the spectrum than the Fleming end
Eventually, there is a happy ending of sorts. The Baers’ relationship deepens and the pair, becoming disillusioned with the CIA, retire and settle down together. But even here, the happiness isn’t unalloyed – their relationships with other family members don’t appear to improve and they continue to be paranoid about the appearance of strangers in their new hometown.
As I read the book, I was at first quite hostile to Bob and Dayna, finding them self-aware and seemingly flippant about the effects of their lives on their existing families. By the end, however, the hostility had faded to be replaced by a kind of pity at how their chosen profession had played havoc with their ability to lead the kind of personal life that most of us take for granted.
The Company We Keep was kindly sent to me by Random House, the publisher, for which I am, as ever, grateful, is an intriguing read for anyone with an interest in espionage and should be of interest to a far wider readership.