Review of “The New Spymasters” by Stephen Grey

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Author:  Stephen Grey

Publication Date: July 14, 2015

Publisher: St. Martin’s

ISBN: 978-0-3123-7922-3

Agent: Not known

Source of Book: I obtained this book by scanning the shelves at my local library.



Blurb: The old world of spying-dead-letter boxes, microfilm cameras, an enemy reporting to the Moscow Center, and a hint of sexual blackmail is history. The spymaster’s technique has changed and the enemy has, too. He or she now frequently comes from a culture far removed from Western understanding and is part of a less well-organized group. The new enemy is constantly evolving and prepared to kill the innocent. In the face of this new threat, the spymasters of the world shunned human intelligence as the primary way to glean clandestine information and replaced it with an obsession that focuses on the technical methods of spying ranging from the use of high-definition satellite photography to the global interception of communications. However, this obsession with technology has failed, most spectacularly, with the devastation of the 9/11 attacks. In this searing modern history of espionage, Stephen Grey takes us from the CIA’s Cold War legends, to the agents who betrayed the IRA, through to the spooks inside Al-Qaeda and ISIS. Techniques and technologies have evolved, but the old motivations for betrayal-patriotism, greed, revenge, compromise-endure. Based on years of research and interviews with hundreds of secret sources, Stephen Grey’s The New Spymasters is an up-to-date exposé that shows how spycraft’s human factor is once again being used to combat the world’s deadliest enemies.

(Source of Blurb: Macmillian Publishers)

Review:  “The New Spymasters”,  a non-fiction book by Stephen Grey published in 2015, was challenging to read, but highly informative, and very wide-ranging. Case studies were presented in readable, but rich detail. The author tried to draw together some overarching themes, including the conflict between technological intelligence and human intelligence gathering, and the difficulties inherent in each as well as ethical conflicts. The differences and conflicts between obtaining information and covert action are clearly described and illustrated. For an aspiring author searching for plotlines and conflicts to make a story richer, this book provides a wealth of possibilities. Spying is not easy, and it is not glamorous, and “The New Spymasters” pulls no punches. These stories are all very real and very well documented.

The book starts with a glossary in the front.  I imagine that was a signal from the author that this was going to be a difficult read. I found the glossary useful, especially the names and abbreviations of the intelligence services of many foreign countries.  The author is not afraid of complexity, and the glossary is helpful. “The New Spymasters tells the story of spying from the British Empire up to Afghanistan and al-Queda. It takes a case approach, focusing on a famous spying episode in each chapter, including Sidney Reilly, Kim Philby, the IRA, Andrew Antoniades, as well as several post 9-11 spying successes and failures, probing deeply into what is known about each episode. The book highlights the evolution of the spying business, and is quite clear about the difficulties involved in spying on an organization such as al-Queda.

Rating: 4.0/5.0

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Review of “Operation Finale”

I enjoyed this movie a lot, but it was not as good as I had hoped it would be. I thought it suffered in comparison to two movies, “Silence of the Lambs” and “Argo”. As I watched “Operation Finale” , I could not help bringing up thoughts of these two excellent movies, each of which had points of reference in “Operation Finale”. If I hadn’t seen these two movies, I would have enjoyed “Operation Finale” a lot more on its own. It is a very thought-provoking film, and features an excellent performance by Ben Kingsley. It is well worth seeing.

The strongest performance in “Operation Finale”  was Ben Kingsley as Adolph Eichmann, a Nazi war criminal who was Hitler’s architect of the “Final Solution”. Eichmann was a classic villain if there ever was one, and Kingsley plays it to the hilt without overdoing it. The high point of the movie was Kingsley’s dialog with Peter Malkin, one of the Israeli agents involved in the kidnapping of Eichmann,  as Malkin struggles to convince Eichmann to sign a document saying he was voluntarily returning to Argentina. It seems Eichmann has some Hannibal Lecter-like skills in the manipulation of his captors, and Kingsley is very good at showing the humanity of Eichmann simultaneously with his truly evil nature. If I hadn’t seen “Silence of the Lambs” I would have appreciated it much more. I was constantly comparing Adolph Eichmann with Hannibal Lecter, and in terms of both true evil and manipulative skills, Kingsley’s portrayal of Eichmann comes up very close, but a little bit short. This is not a knock on Kingsley, however who turned in a riveting performance.

The other movie I wanted to compare “Operation Finale” to was “Argo”, in which a team of United States’ agents successfully smuggled a group of Americans out of Iran in the middle of the Iranian hostage crisis. “Argo” and “Operation Finale” were both based on real events, and both undoubtedly took a few small liberties with the historical facts to create cinematic tension, but I thought Argo was the better “thriller”, while “Operation Finale was the better psychological study and a lot more cerebral. There were some interesting ethical issues in the Eichmann kidnapping, and the inner turmoil of the Israeli agents who had to fight off the urge to kill Eichmann themselves was well presented in this movie.

I had a little difficulty in the opening scene in which Peter Malkin, the Israeli agent who is the main focus of this story kills the wrong person in his search to bring Nazis to justice. I honestly wasn’t clear what was happening in this scene and who the characters were. For me, that started the film off on the wrong foot, but once Ben Kingsley filled the screen, that first scene was quickly forgiven, and a very good, but not great, movie ensued.

Review of “The Other Woman” by Daniel Silva

“The Other Woman”, the 2018 effort by Daniel Silva, was one of the best espionage books I have read in recent years. Silva is at the top of his game and keeps improving as his Gabriel Allon series continues.

This story concerns Gabriel Allon, the spy, assassin, art restorer, and head of Israeli intelligence who learns of a highly placed mole from cold war days who has risen to a very high place in Western intelligence. Once again, it seems that Allon is the only person who can deal with the situation.

Although I felt the story was a bit contrived and somewhat preposterous, Daniel Silva makes it plausible, and provides a copious amount of research along the way, as well as some visits to exotic locales. This story held my attention from beginning to end, and I wound up reading it quickly. This is the sign of a great thriller. Silva uses short chapters and changing points of view to provide a very tight story that keeps the reader on edge throughout.

Gabriel Allon still reigns as my favorite thriller hero. His character is the best developed in this book which is to be expected. Whenever Allon speaks a line of dialog, his voice shines through, and you draw a picture of a capable, but somewhat cynical hero, who always wants to do the right thing but is not afraid to get his hands dirty or violate some set of rules.

My only gripes in this excellent book concern the minor characters. I may have had too high expectations here, since his other characters are not as well developed as I believe they have been in Silva’s previous books. One of my favorites, Julian Isherwood is not even present in this novel. The art world, which I have enjoyed reading about in Silva’s previous novels, has no role here. Christopher Keller, Silva’s assassin turned British agent is present, but strangely not given too much stage time and not as colorful as he has been in previous novels. The same goes for Allon’s usual fellow Israeli agents. They are present, but not really important or well constructed in this novel.

Please don’t let this last paragraph deter you from this novel, however. The fact that Silva is capable of making a truly preposterous premise seem very realistic is a testament to his storytelling skill. The fact that I was disappointed in the use of his secondary characters is a testament to the richness of the story world that he has created in his previous novels. I really wanted to see more of these secondary characters since I enjoyed spending time with them in previous novels.

Read this novel. You will not be disappointed.

I obtained a copy of this novel from my public library. I am a fan of Daniel Silva’s work, and I was anxious to read his latest effort. I also posted this review in Goodreads.