Beside the Syrian Sea

Jonas is a spy with a problem. His quiet life spent writing reports for British intelligence is turned upside-down when his father is kidnapped by ISIS, and he soon finds himself dangerously out of his depth in Beirut, struggling to put into action the most audacious plan imaginable. As events hurtle towards a confrontation with the kidnappers, Jonas is forced to decide how far he is willing to go to see his father again.

“…a superb debut. The writer has obviously been somewhere or something in the spy business. This emerges not so much in the main storyline, but in the fascinating surrounding details. Moreover, Wolff has written a work that seems not to have depended on copying the style and structure of the usual tales of espionage.”

Marcel Berlins, The Times, Crime Book of the Month

“Great espionage novels are not genre pieces but studies of betrayal, dishonour, expediency, loyalty — the darkness of human nature, the subjects of all literature. Beside the Syrian Sea by James Wolff, a debut by an ex-spy, is superb: an adventure from London to Lebanon and Syria and the desperate struggle for survival in the face of war and betrayal. Wolff is a new maestro.”

Simon Sebag Montefiore, Evening Standard, Books of the Year 2018

A good spy story will always have me hooked. There is a lot of rubbish around, of course, and I’ve lost count of the number of writers trailed as “the new le Carré” whose books have quickly ended up in the local charity shop. But now and again a real original pops up. I found one last month – Beside the Syrian Sea, by James Wolff. His name is a pseudonym, for reasons that most readers will guess is connected to his job, because this is an account of a hostage-taking in the Middle East and the efforts of a renegade MI5 officer to rescue his father, and it trembles with realistic detail. I know we’ll hear more of him.

James Naughtie, BBC presenter, Radio Times

…he writes masterfully about the badlands of Beirut, suggesting that he knows what he is talking about – plots and counterplots, secret agents, ISIS, Hezbollah, the CIA and our own secret services.

Literary Review

A great read with characters that are developed and multidimensional.

San Francisco Book Review

We often talk about unlikely heroes but Wolff’s compassionate portrait of his protagonist Jonas, in this his first novel, is exceptional. His range of characters are detailed and convincing and in this beautifully constructed thriller he piles on the pressure to the end…a brilliant, gripping and moving thriller.


Superbly written and plotted, both subtle and aware in its politics, funny and exciting, Wolff’s debut is also the most surprising and genuine novel about love you’ll read all year.

Morning Star

Beside the Syrian Sea is a British intelligence spy novel with all the classic trappings…Dare I invoke John Le Carre here? That’s an awfully heavy burden to place on a debut author, but the comparison is appropriate. Beside the Syrian Sea will appeal to readers who prefer their spy novels populated by imperfect characters on the heady side who still rely on old-school tradecraft.

This book generates excitement from the first page… a spy story full of sparkling detail, and sharp as a tack.