Review of “Prodigal Son” by Gregg Hurwitz

Author: Gregg Hurwitz

Publication Date:  2021

Publisher: Minotaur Books

Source of Book:  NetGalley


Forced into retirement, Evan Smoak gets an urgent request for help from someone he didn’t even suspect existed.

As a boy, Evan Smoak was pulled out of a foster home and trained in an off-the-books operation known as the Orphan Program. He was a government assassin, perhaps the best, known to a few insiders as Orphan X. He eventually broke with the Program and adopted a new name – The Nowhere Man―and a new mission, helping the most desperate in their times of trouble. But the highest power in the country has made him a tempting offer – in exchange for an unofficial pardon, he must stop his clandestine activities as The Nowhere Man. Now Evan has to do the one thing he’s least equipped to do – live a normal life.

But then he gets a call for help from the one person he never expected. A woman claiming to have given him up for adoption, a woman he never knew – his mother. Her unlikely request: help Andrew Duran – a man whose life has gone off the rails, who was in the wrong place at the wrong time, bringing him to the deadly attention of very powerful figures. Now a brutal brother & sister assassination team are after him and with no one to turn to, and no safe place to hide, Evan is Duran’s only option. But when the hidden cabal catches on to what Evan is doing, everything he’s fought for is on the line– including his own life.

(Source of Blurb: Author Website)

Review: “Prodigal Son” is another entertaining thriller by Gregg Hurwitz. The protagonist, Evan Smoak, is a likeable, capable character, full of quirks and flaws that add to his allure.  There are a few character quirks that I still don’t understand after reading two “Orphan X” books, like his obsession with vodka and his use of a “floating bed”, but these make the protagonist even more interesting. Smoak is sort of a superman with a lot of human baggage. The real strength of this book is the scenario that seems far-fetched, but becomes more plausible and more terrifying as the story unfolds. This excellent story features a  heavy dose of technology that is well-researched and well-explained. The author also provided a good deal of backstory, so a reader new to the series will enjoy the story as well.

The author explores a lot of Evan Smoak’s human baggage in “Prodigal Son”. Relationships are an underlying theme. They help define the protagonist and help readers identify with him as a fellow human. Overall, I enjoyed this exploration of Smoak’s softer side, but some readers might find it overdone. I also find his “friends”, including a quirky but competent computer hacker and an inventive weapons supplier, make it a little too easy for him to escape from difficulty.

Overall, this is a very good read, with colorful characters and a well-constructed, twisty and frightening plot.

I would like to thank NetGalley and Minotaur Publications for providing me with an ARC in return for providing an honest review.

Rating: 4.0 /5.0

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Review of “Mission Critical” by Mark Greaney

Author: Mark Greaney

Publication Date: 2019

Publisher: Berkley: an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC

ISBN: 9780451488947

Agent: Scott Miller and John Cassir


Court Gentry’s flight on a CIA transport plane is interrupted when a security team brings a hooded man aboard. The mysterious passenger is being transported to England where a joint CIA/MI6 team will interrogate him about a mole in Langley.

When they land at an isolated airbase in the UK, they are attacked by a hostile force that kidnaps the prisoner. Gentry, the lone survivor, is ordered to track down the assassins and rescue the asset.

In Virginia, an assault on a CIA safe house leaves dead and wounded agents littering a suburban neighborhood. The object of the attack is Court’s former lover, Zoya Zakharova. She escapes, but with a team of killers on her trail.

Now, two different agents on two different continents are battling blind against the impossible–but each may be holding the piece the other needs to fight their way out.

(Source of Blurb:  dust cover )


Greaney hits another bull’s-eye. If you crave nonstop action, this book is for you. It is another entry in Greaney’s successful “Gray Man” series. It will not disappoint you. The action scenes are terrific and almost continual. The character of the Russian Agent is a female version of the Gray Man, which is a whole lot of fun for the reader. I recommend it to all of Greaney’s fans. Action does not let up throughout the entire book.

The earlier Gray Man had a lot of quips, and an interesting moral code, but the humor seemed much more inconsistent in “Mission Critical”. I also found some of the motivation of the Russian Agent a little difficult to buy into, but it is still a very good book.

The “Gray Man” has mellowed with age, but will still take the reader for an enjoyable ride. If you thrive on thrills, action and intrigue, you will enjoy “Mission Critical”.  It is part of a series, but stands alone very well.

Rating: 4.7/5.0

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Review of “Assault by Fire” by H. Ripley Rawlings IV

Author: H. Ripley Rawlings IV

Publication Date: 2020

Publisher: Pinnacle Books

ISBN: 978-0-7860-4706-2

Source of Book: I received an electronic version of the book from NetGalley in return for an honest review.


In the rip-roaring tradition of Red Dawn and The Dirty Dozen, this action-packed thriller from Lt. Col. Hunter Ripley “Rip” Rawlings IV takes all-American patriotism to an explosive new level . . .


U.S. Marine Tyce Asher knew his fighting days were over when he lost his leg in Iraq. He thought he’d never see action again—certainly not on American soil—until the Russians attacked us by sea . . .


With so many troops stationed in the Middle East, the U.S. government is counting on Tyce and other reserve fighters to step up and defend their country—when Russian boots hit the ground . . .


This is much more than a surprise attack. It is a full-fledged invasion orchestrated by a military mastermind hellbent on destruction. As the Russians move inland, killing and maiming, Tyce has to enlist every patriot he can find—seasoned vets, armchair warriors, backwoods buckshooters, even mountain moonshiners—to unleash their 2nd Amendment rights . . . on America’s #1 enemy.

(Source of Blurb: website.)

Review:  If you are a fan of military thrillers, this is a really exciting entry. The author creates an innovative scenario involving a full-scale Russian military invasion. Once a reader buys into this possibility, the story is gripping, and maintains a high level of suspense throughout. There are some very interesting characters, with real weaknesses and colorful backgrounds, including some strong female characters. There are no superhuman fighters or comic-book characters on either side of the conflict, just real people with real shortcomings and a heavy doses of courage. His protagonist is likeable and well-developed. The strongest aspect of Assault by Fire is the action and the presentation of military tactics that the non-technical reader can understand and appreciate. The bulk of the story contains two such actions, an ambush of a larger force, and an assault on an airport. These actions are well-presented, and realistic, involving the tactical level as well as the point of view of the individual soldier. Ripley writes about these battles with terrific authority. He knows what he writes about.

I believe the author could add more development to his secondary characters. He has created a host of interesting characters, with a lot of possibilities. This potential was not realized in Assault by Fire, however. I have a feeling we will be seeing some of these characters again, and I am looking forward to seeing them grow in the future. There was also a brief romance in the book, that I found a little bit out of place. The author’s strength is in the combat scenes.

Rawlings knows how to write a good story and keep the reader awake at night. It is an innovative book, with a masterful discussion of military tactics.

Rating: 4.4/5.0

Link to Author’s Website:

Purchase Link: website

Review of “The Battle of Britain” by James Holland

This was an excellent deep-dive into the Battle of Britain. James Holland takes a chronological approach to this important part of World War II. In each chapter he weaves in the domestic and international political issues, strategic considerations on both the British and German sides, tactical decisions on both sides, individual British and German combatants, and even civilians living in London and Berlin. His research is extensive, and he manages to pack in a lot of detail without overwhelming this reader. His enthusiasm is obvious and infectious. I enjoyed this authoritative and entertaining look at one of history’s greatest battles. I learned a lot along the way as well.

I was first introduced to James Holland by watching a strange television series called “Hunting Hitler”.  (SPOILER ALERT: they didn’t find him.)  The series explored the theory that Hitler was not killed in the bunker, but managed to escape to South America. The series expanded this premise to an outlandish level, but it did explore a lot of history, and a lot of Nazi activity in South America. The phrase “we can’t rule it out” was used a few too many times for my taste. One of the characters featured in the hunt was James Holland, whose enthusiasm for concrete structures and Nazi tunnels carried a lot of the show.

I started following James Holland on Twitter, and found out he appeared in a number of other WWII documentaries. I watched a few of them. He was good at the documentary thing, and is a serious scholar to boot, making scholarship available to people like myself with an interest in WWII. He also produces a podcast. Our local library recently opened after a long pandemic shutdown, and “The Battle of Britain” by James Holland was my first withdrawal. It was terrific, and I plan to read more of James Holland’s work and listen to some podcasts.

Unusual Pandemic Entertainment –Travel Vloggers

Bald and BankruptHere is an unusual source of entertainment I encountered during the COVID-19 outbreak. I have tried to refrain from “How I Spent my Pandemic” blog entries, but I couldn’t resist sharing a recent discovery that has brought a little variety into my usual COVID-19 life. I have stumbled on the strange world of travel vloggers on YouTube. Vlogging is a new word to me, and apparently it means making a video blog. The ones I have watched involve a single character with a camera and microphone held at arms length. The vlogger is speaking into the camera while showing the audience some interesting footage, or conversing with someone. Vloggers sometimes visit unusual locations as well as everyday life on a street. I never knew these folks existed, but there are a lot of them on YouTube, and they travel all over the world. It is a great way to do armchair travelling, especially since travel at this time is uncertain at best. Lets hope that changes, but for now, I have had a lot of fun looking at a few travel vloggers. They do have to navigate some thorny ethical issues, including invasion of privacy,  and the need to self-censor to avoid irritating or embarrassing their hosts. They may also have either named or unnamed “sponsors” that influence what they present to their audiences.

The best I have come across so far is “Bald and Bankrupt”. His YouTube Channel can be found at Bald and Bankrupt. He hails from Britain, and travels to various locations in the former Soviet Union and India. He speaks enough Russian and Hindi to interact with locals. He does not go to the usual tourist spots, but rather ventures to small towns, markets, bus stations and train stations. He can be a little irreverent at times, but is generally respectful of the local people, and enjoys many drinks and meals with them. If you ever fantasized about visiting the “real” India, the “real” Cuba, or the “real” Russia, he does it and is a lot of fun to watch. I imagine vlogging is a lot harder than it looks, but this guy makes it look easy.

“Bald and Bankrupt” has not been active lately. Sadly, he contracted COVID-19 during his travels, and claims he had a very difficult time of it. I have no reason to doubt that story. I do wish him a very speedy recovery. Visiting the places he visited is a dangerous profession, particularly during the pandemic and the days leading up to it. I have a feeling he was not as careful as he should have been. I hope he is back to vlogging again when he has recovered and when it is safe. He is very good at what he does, and seems to be a very decent, but mischievous person. While he is inactive, he has a lot of videos on YouTube taken in various parts of the world in the past few years.

Another vlogger I have come to like is Harold Baldr, who sometimes joins up with “Bald and Bankrupt”. His YouTube channel can be found at Harald Baldr. Like “Bald and Bankrupt” he makes vlogging look easy. He is adapting to a COVID-19 world, and is now in Greece. He has a recent video about a soccer match in Athens with some questionable social distancing happening outside the empty stadium where the match was being played. Again, Harald Baldr interacts with locals and does some crazy stuff. These vloggers need to walk a fine line between providing “edgy” content and irritating their hosts.

A third one I follow is “Irish Partizan” an Irishman living in Minsk, Belarus. His YouTube channel is at Irish Partizan videos seem confined to Belarus, a place I would not be likely to visit, even without the pandemic. He seems to be learning his game, but I enjoy seeing this little-known country from a vlogger’s perspective.

Give these channels a try if you crave a little unusual armchair travel to places you might not want to go. The videos vary in quality, so give each of the vloggers the benefit of the doubt and watch a few of them. Some of the videos are really fun to watch, others are incredibly boring. I was a little skeptical at first, but I have grown to like some of the people that do this and wish them well. There are a bunch of them on YouTube, and I believe I have only scratched the surface of this emerging profession.

For writers, this is a rich source of material to develop exotic settings in your writing without the expense and challenge of travel.


Review of Daniel Silva’s “The Messenger”

Author: Daniel SilvaThe Messenger

Publication Date: 2006

Publisher: Penguin Books

ISBN: 0-399-15335-7

Agent: Esther Newberg


When last we encountered Gabriel Allon, the legendary spy and assassin for the Israeli secret service, he was recovering from his blood-soaked duel with Palestinian master-terrorist Khaled al-Khalifa. Blown, wanted for questioning by the French police for his role in the terrorist bombing of a Paris train station, his options are few: to live out his life in hiding in Israel, or to accept a job at Headquarters he does not want.

But when a reform-minded Arab academic dies under mysterious circumstances in London, Gabriel is suddenly presented with a third option. Israeli intelligence knows the professor was not a reformist but a recruiter for a shadowy terrorist group affiliated with al-Qaeda—and surveillance photos discovered on his computer indicate that the group is planning to attack the world’s most visible symbol of Christianity: the Vatican. Gabriel delivers the warning to his old friend, Monsignor Luigi Donati, the Pope’s private secretary, who has been summoned to Jerusalem to see the evidence for himself. When Donati asks Gabriel to come to Rome to assist in the security for a papal General Audience, Gabriel accepts the assignment without hesitation. What neither Donati or Gabriel know then is that the Vatican has been thoroughly penetrated by the forces of global Islamic militancy—and that they will both soon find themselves in the center of the most devastating terrorist attack since 9/11.

In the days that follow, Gabriel and his colleagues in Tel Aviv and Washington patiently sift through intelligence about the mysterious group that claims responsibility for the attack. All the clues point to a single source: Saudi Arabia. More specifically, to two men: a Saudi intelligence officer named Ahmed Bin Shafiq, and a world-famous Saudi billionaire and art collector named Abdul Aziz al-Bakari. Bin Shafiq and al-Bakari are problems that, for political and economic reasons, the Americans are ill-equipped to deal with. And so the American president and his CIA operations chief ask Gabriel to undertake an mission on their behalf. Penetrate al-Bakari’s inner circle, find Ahmed Bin Shafiq, and kill him before he can strike again. Gabriel accepts the assignment, for he has been touched personally by the new wave of terror. His friend and mentor, the legendary Israeli spymaster Ari Shamron, has been targeted as well and lies near death in a Jerusalem hospital.

Armed with a lost Van Gogh masterpiece, and a courageous young American curator named Sarah Bancroft, Gabriel sets out to penetrate the inner circle of a man who is nothing if not the Chairman and CEO of Jihad Incorporated. And soon he will find himself in a deadly duel of wits with a Saudi master-terrorist that will take him from an art gallery in London, to a Caribbean island paradise, to a secluded valley in the heart of Switzerland, and finally back to the Vatican, where the lives of a Pope and a President will be decided by the outcome.

(Source of Blurb: Author Website)

Review:  Daniel Silva hit a home run here. This is one of the earlier entries in Silva’s highly successful Gabriel Allon Series. It stands the test of time, and it is one of the best of the Silva books I have read.

The tale involves inserting an agent into the bad guys’ organization and then extracting the agent. It is tense, well written and takes the reader on a really entertaining ride, even a little art education along the way. There are many settings in the book, including the Vatican, Israel, the Caribbean, and Switzerland. The plot is plausible and the tension is constant throughout the book. In fact, I can’t think of anything I dislike about The Messenger.

Silva always does a great job of providing enough backstory to get new readers right into the flow and understand the characters without alienating his old readers. No problem if this is the first Silva book you read, and no problem if you have already read one of his subsequent books..

Rating: 5.0/5.0

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Review of “Dragonfire” by Ted Bell

Publication Date:  July 2020Dragonfire

Publisher: Berkley

ISBN: 9780593101209


Alex Hawke, British lord and gentleman spy, is looking for the Queen’s missing grandson, whose disappearance may be the culmination of a plot almost a century old in this breathtaking new adventure from New York Times bestselling novelist Ted Bell.

December 8, 1941, Washington, D.C.

The new Chinese ambassador to the United States, Tiger Tang, meets with President Roosevelt one day after the attack on Pearl Harbor. For the next four years, China and the U.S. will be wartime allies, but the charming, sophisticated ambassador may be playing his own treacherous game.

Today, The Bahamas

Alex Hawke is recovering from serious injuries incurred during a battle with a malevolent enemy. His recuperation is interrupted by a desperate call from the Queen. Her favorite grandson has disappeared in the Bahamas. Lord Hawke is the only man she trusts with a mission this sensitive. All she knows is that the young prince was last seen at the exclusive Dragonfire nightclub owned by the nefarious Tang brothers, grandsons of Ambassador Tiger Tang.

(Source of Blurb:


“Dragonfire” is an action-packed, fast paced thriller. The book is a lot of fun. “Dragonfire” is full of exotic settings, some colorful evil characters, and a number of heroes that evoke the old James Bond. As an added touch, Bell pays homage to Ian Fleming by having him as a character in “Dragonfire”.

The structure of the book is innovative, as two stories are told simultaneously, by means of alternating groups of chapters. One is present day Alex Hawke, and the other story is a dose of very good historical fiction involving Alex Hawke’s grandfather interacting with relatives of the protagonist.  Clever stuff. The book is well-written throughout. The author pulls off the challenging task of switching from one story to the other quite well.

On the negative side, the book has the flavor of a grouping of related short stories, rather then one grand story. I was hoping for more of a linkage between the World War II story and the contemporary story at the conclusion, but for me that never happened.  I also have a little difficulty with the main character, Alex Hawke. The character seems to know everyone, be able to do anything, obtain any needed resource, and seduce any woman in the world. I prefer my characters with fewer capabilities. My personal preferences aside, the Alex Hawke character is entertaining, as is his very similar grandfather.  I don’t think the negatives get into the way of fun at all, however.

Sit back and enjoy the ride. The author knows how to write a good thriller, a little outlandish at times, but always fun.

I would like to thank NetGalley and Berkley Publishers for providing an advance copy of “Dragonfire” in return for an honest review.

Rating: 4.0 /5.0

Link to Author’s Website:

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Review of “The Kill Artist” by Daniel Silva

Author:  Daniel SilvaThe Kill Artist

Publication Date:  2000

Publisher: Random House

ISBN: 0-375-50090-1

Agent: Esther Newberg


Once a key operative in secret Israeli-intelligence missions, Gabriel Allon is on the run from his past, assuming a quiet life as a meticulous restorer of priceless works of art. But now he is being called back into the game. The agent with whom he is teamed hides behind her own beautiful mask-as a French fashion model. Their target: a cunning terrorist on one last killing spree, a Palestinian zealot named Tariq who played a dark part in Gabriel’s past. What begins as a manhunt turns into a globe-spanning duel fueled by political intrigue and deep personal passions. In a world where secrecy and duplicity are absolute, revenge is a luxury no man can afford-and the greatest masterpiece of all.

(Source of Blurb: author website)


This is an excellent spy novel, and a first class thriller in every respect.  It is taut throughout, and the tension increases as the reader turns the pages. Silva does not let up.

The plot is intricate enough to satisfy any discerning thriller reader with many twists and turns. At the same time it is very believable.

The characters are deep and well developed, even the villains. The characters all have flaws, which makes them human. They are very competent but have real limitations. No cartoon characters here.

Silva takes the reader through many settings, and throughout several eras of history. I believe thriller readers, particularly those involving espionage, like to learn, and Silva is a good teacher. He evokes a setting very well.

The research is extensive. In this novel we enter the art world, the fashion industry, high finance, Israeli intelligence, to name a few. Silva explains the intricacies of these worlds like a master.

Silva’s writing is crisp and clear. The voice of the characters, particularly Allon and Shamron come through loud and clear in the dialog.

My only criticism is the end of the book in which there were one too many twists for my taste. Also, the Shamron character seemed a little more cruel than what I recall in some of the subsequent Gabriel Allon novels. Shamron’s character arc must have mellowed over the years.

This is the first novel in Silva’ highly successful Gabril Allon series. A reader might jump in anywhere in the Gabriel Allon series and find enjoyment. I don’t say this lightly. Silva does as good a job as anyone with backstory, providing enough in each book to give the reader the flavor of the major characters, but does not overwhelm. There is a narrow path between too much and too little backstory. Silva navigates it like the master he is. It might have been better for me or for anyone else to read the Gabriel Allon series in the proper sequence. I had read several of his subsequent Gabriel Allon Novels, and enjoyed them thoroughly. I thought it was time to read the novel that introduced Silva’s iconic character. My expectations were high. As I expected, it was terrific. If you find an old Daniel Silva book lying around, read it. If you want to buy a newer book, do it. You won’t regret it.

Rating: 4.9 /5.0

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Review of “Spy” by Ted Bell

Publication Date:  2006Spy

Publisher: Pocket Star Books, a Division of Simon and Schuster

ISBN: 13: 978-0-7432-7724-2


In this exhilarating tale of international suspense, New York Times bestselling author Ted Bell’s “larger-than-life hero” (Publishers Weekly), counterterrorist operative Alexander Hawke, must save the United States from a devastating terrorist operation.

When a mysterious explosion destroys his research vessel in search of a lost river, Alex Hawke is captured indigenous cannibals and enslaved deep within the Amazonian jungle. Before he escapes, he learns that a fearsome foe is preparing for war – but against whom?

When he regains contact with his American and British intelligence counterparts, Alex’s worst fears are confirmed. The men in the jungle are highly trained Hezbollah warriors who are planning an unspeakably violent jihad against America. While the United States focuses its efforts on the escalating border disputes with Mexico, Alex vows to put a stop to the deadly plot. Aware that his mission may be the country’s only hope, he travels back into the jungle to destroy the lawless mastermind who dares to threaten America’s very existence.

(Source of Blurb: )


“Spy” by Ted Bell is an enjoyable thriller with cover to cover action in a variety of interesting locales, notably the Amazon jungle, the Texas-Mexico border, and the Washington D.C. area. It turned out to be a superb escapist book for me. It moves quickly and is difficult to put down once you buy into the premise. The writing is crisp and clear, and the plot keeps the reader interested throughout its length. The end of the book is particularly well done.

Initially, I did not like this book. I generally shy away from superhero characters. The premise of the book is a little outlandish and difficult to swallow. The villain seems like he comes from the pages of a comic-book, and the hero has a few too many capabilities, friends, and connections to suit my liking. I prefer heroes with more limitations. This was the first of Ted Bell’s Alex Hawke series that I read, and I needed a little more backstory to buy into the character. It appears Alex Hawke can do anything, and has almost infinite resources at his disposal. He also has an unlimited supply of attractive women, and connections that permit him to do just about anything. I found all that difficult to swallow. The antagonist was also difficult to believe. His high-tech jungle hideaway was too much for me to swallow. As much as I found to dislike about this book, the more I read it, I realized I was having a great deal of plain old fun. I wound up enjoying the hell out of this book, and will seek out more from this author.

The book is not at all politically correct. At first I had trouble with that, then I found it refreshing. It was a guilty pleasure for me. I do believe it could use a good edit as the book is very long, but I enjoyed the ride. This book will not challenge you intellectually, but it is a great deal of fun. There is a place for that, and “Spy” fills it nicely.

Rating:  4.0/5.0

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Review of “Jinnik: The Asset” by Gideon D. Asche

This was a terrific read. If you have an interest in the Cold War, this book is very much worth reading in very many ways.Jinnik The Asset

Publication Date:  2020

Publisher: Muddy Boots Press


Jinnik: The Asset. A fact-based historical novel, chronicling the exploits of an eight-man human intelligence team working behind the Iron Curtain between 1979 and 1988. Not chosen for any extraordinary combat skills, or because of his Super-Soldier status, Gideon’s recruitment was because he had a knack for smuggling and an unusual ability to make friends. Everyone Liked Gideon, but no one was sure why.

Six men and two strong women, with nothing in common other than the willingness to put their lives on the line to give liberty a chance. Ten years of living in the shadows takes a toll on even the strongest operator – KGB interrogators took care of anything the job didn’t destroy.

Gideon’s career ends inside a KGB interrogation cell. He survives, but only physically. Of the eight original members of AG-31, only three made it to old age, Gideon was the last of the three.

(Source of Blurb:


This was a terrific book. The author held my interest from beginning to end. The story is gripping. The author calls this a fact-based historical novel, but it seems to me to be more fact than fiction. It reads like a memoir, a personal story. I do not know the author, but I believe many (maybe even all) of the episodes he speaks of are very real and very personal. I feel a debt of gratitude to the men and women who did the things described in the book. They were not super-hero soldiers, but ordinary people with extraordinary courage  who did  things in the shadows that they will never receive recognition for. If you have any interest in the cold war, this is a must-read book. It deserves to be read by a wide audience.

My only criticism was a diversion in which the protagonist returned to the United States. That seemed to take the reader away from the main story. On the other hand, it was much like the R&R breaks that were a part of the fabric of the Vietnam War, a brief break from the craziness of what they were doing followed by a return to the War. As a result, the breaks took their own form of craziness. This made the book very real for me.

I received a free copy of the book from the author in exchange for an honest review. I have no personal connection with the author and I am not an Amazon affiliate. I just think this is a very good book, especially for anyone with an interest in the Cold War.

Rating: 5.0/5.0

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