Review of “The Korean Woman” by John Altman

 

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The “Korean Woman” is a very well-crafted 2019 thriller from John Altman. The plot revolves around the activation of a “sleeper” spy from North Korea. The “Korean Woman” is living a very contented life in New York City, having been married and is in the process of raising children. This is something of a domestic thriller, but not entirely. On the surface, this sounds like a very implausible plot, but Altman is very successful in developing this character and her motivation. If you are a reader looking for a strong female character, “The Korean woman” delivers. The strongest part of the story involves a chase by a group of Central Intelligence Agency spooks, using all sorts of high-tech equipment, but the spy manages to elude them using low-tech methods. I am reminded of an old movie, “Lonely are the Brave” in which a criminal is being pursued by the authorities with almost unlimited resources. In that movie, the viewer winds up rooting for the criminal. Altman takes this premise in a different direction, and does it very well. He has some pretty good twists up his sleeve along the way.

I was a little less impressed with the character development of the Central Intelligence Agency pursuers, however. They were not as well developed, particularly the character named Bach. I also was not a fan of the ending of the book, largely due to the undeveloped characters among the pursuers of “The Korean Woman.” I think this book could be a lot stronger with better development of the characters pursuing the spy.

If you enjoy a good chase scenario with a small taste of domestic thriller, this book will provide that for you.

I received a complimentary copy of the book from NetGalley.

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Writing–The Plot Matrix

It’s been a while since I have written about writing. It’s been very slow.

I had a first draft of my novel written some time ago. I wasn’t very happy with it. My foray into the world of thriller reviewing gave me a lot of ways I could improve the novel. You learn a lot by reading the work of successful writers. My plot could be a lot less complex.  The stakes in the novel could be a lot higher. The characters could be a lot less flat and better developed. Too few of the characters were female. This is probably a vestige of old thrillers that I have read along the way. Any new thriller needs to have at least one strong female character or it won’t get too far in the publishing world, and will cut down on the potential market. My continual reading about the craft of writing also showed me in no uncertain terms that my writing could be a lot better. I delayed diving into the second draft. The demon of lack of self-confidence manifested itself. Now I believe I am ready.

In order to get things moving, I created what I call a plot matrix. It is a simple two-dimensional outline. The vertical part of the matrix is chronology, a time order when things happen in the novel. The horizontal element of the matrix is by character and character grouping. I can see at a “glance” what each character is doing or not doing at a specific point in time.   Right now it has over 40 rows.  Each row represents a particular point in time, and 15 columns, each with a character or character group. This way I can see the sequence of things, and determine who is doing what and when they are doing it. The more complex it gets, however the more difficult it is to see what is happening.

I learned some things by doing this.

Some of my chronology was not logical. Things were out of order, and it wasn’t clear how some situations came to be. Some of the events could be relegated to backstory.

I had too many characters. Some may have been unnecessary. I could collapse some of the characters.

I spent a lot of time and mental energy doing this matrix. I still don’t feel it is perfect. There are several inconsistencies remaining. I do feel I have a starting point for the writing of the second draft, however. I can see which of the old scenes can remain as is, which scenes need to be revised in order to enrich the characters or support the new, higher stakes plot, and which scenes can be trashed. There appears to be a path through the woods, but many weeds, thorn bushes, and predatory animals remain along the way.

Paralysis had me for a while. Insecurities abound, and I have found many excuses to do other things than move forward with the second draft. The matrix is providing a way, and giving me some hope about moving forward. I need to make sure the matrix doesn’t constrain me, and that if I get a great idea about the plot or the characters as I move forward, I can have some fun with it.

We’ll see how it goes.

A Review of a “Bad” Book

Should I ever write a bad review?

This question has haunted me for some time now. I usually finish every book I start, but I had one book that just didn’t grab me. I won’t name it. I don’t believe it was a “bad” book, it just “wasn’t for me.” It was a thriller, by a very famous author who has been writing for a very long time and REALLY knows how to write. In fact, this book most likely achieved a level of market success that a writer like me could only dream about. The first three chapters were a prologue, and each chapter briefly and poignantly discussed a different aspect of the Nazi reign of terror prior to World War II. These were fantastic chapters, and made me anxious to read more. Once I got past the prologue, things went downhill for me. I found the book jumpy, and the characters were not well developed at all. I couldn’t finish it. The most likely reason for this was that the book was the third part of a trilogy, and I never read the first two. I didn’t know it was a trilogy until I was well into it. Probably the characters were very well developed in the earlier novels in the trilogy.

My question is should I ever write a review of a book that I didn’t like? Would it do anyone any good. On the “yes” side of the argument, words like “journalistic integrity”, “truth”, and “honesty” cross my mind. I believe it is the job of a reviewer to point out the good and the bad. Absent that, the review becomes simply a form of “free” promotion for the author.

On the other hand, I have absolutely no desire to hurt anyone. I have no delusions that my review would do any harm whatsoever to the well-established author referred to above who was guilty of nothing more than penning a novel that this insignificant reviewer did not like.  Words do hurt, however, and the last thing I would ever want to do is harm an author that was publishing a novel for the first time and is very sensitive to any feedback, good or bad. My own insecurities as a reviewer come into play here as well. My personal review may not be “accurate” or “well-informed.” I may not have even read the novel with as much attention as it deserved. I have learned that writers need to have a very thick skin, but I do not want to be the one to test anyone’s skin thickness. Not yet, anyway. If I REALLY don’t like a book, I will probably not write about it here.

In the meantime, I will probably not publish a lot of completely negative reviews. I will try to focus on where the book could be improved or itemize parts of the book that didn’t work for me.

Review of “The Moroccan Girl” by Charles Cumming

the moroccan girlI saw a notice in NetGalley.com that an advanced electronic copy of “The Moroccan Girl” by Charles Cumming was available in exchange for an honest review. I took NetGalley up on this offer. The mechanics of requesting this book, receiving it on my Kindle, and filing the review were very user-friendly.

The publication date of “The Moroccan Girl” is February 2019, but I prepared the review shown below in late November 2018.

This is an excellent espionage thriller.

Charles Cumming has again written a believable espionage thriller in the tradition of John LeCarré. His story involves a thriller writer who is recruited to work for British Intelligence. His thriller writer protagonist seems very real, flaws and all. He is certainly a refreshing break from the superhero military operative so prevalent in today’s thrillers. Cumming’s strength is the creation of a feeling of paranoia experienced by an ordinary person with some training or knowledge of intelligence who is thrust into a situation far more dangerous than he had anticipated. Like LeCarré, Cumming’s plot has many twists and turns. His protagonist sometimes does foolish things that a normal person might do. Sometimes the protagonist does not read the situation correctly. The reader is never sure of exactly who the villain is. To me, this makes for a very good espionage story, and I enjoyed “The Moroccan Girl” very much.

As the title indicates, much of the story is set in Morocco, and Cumming does enough research to make this setting come alive and provide additional richness to the story.

My only criticism is probably the result of the fact that I read a galley proof on a Kindle. I found the use of various interview reports spaced throughout the book a little difficult to deal with. The switch from narrative to the document was a little confusing to this reader. I am sure this issue can be fixed with some clever formatting.

Other than that small issue, I found this book very enjoyable, and look forward to read many other books written by this author.

Review of “The Gray Man” by Mark Greaney

 

the gray man

Author:  Mark Greaney

Publication Date:  2009

Publisher:  Jove Books, The Berkeley Publishing Group

ISBN: 978-0-515-14701-8

Agent: Scott Miller, Trident Publishing Group

Source of Book: Local library

 

Blurb:

Courtland Gentry is a good man. But he’s a great assassin…

To those who lurk in the shadows, he’s known as the Gray Man. He is a legend in the covert realm, moving silently from job to job, accomplishing the impossible and then fading away. And he always hits his target. Always.

But then there are forces more lethal than Gentry in the world. Forces like money.  And power. And there are men who hold these as the only currency worth fighting for. And in their eyes, Gentry has just outlived his usefulness.

But Court Gentry is going to prove that, for him, there’s no gray area between killing for a living and killing to stay alive.

(Source of Blurb:  Back Cover)

Review:

I really enjoyed this book. The Gray Man is becoming one of my favorite thriller characters. I tend not to enjoy superheroes, but the Gray Man has shot and killed his way into my heart. The plot is very simple. The Gray Man is a professional assassin, and it seems like agents from many nations are all simultaneously trying to kill him while he is engaged in a rescue mission. The plot is a little preposterous (actually very preposterous), but it is a lot of fun. I particularly enjoyed a scene in which the Gray Man is driving to the rescue while a veterinarian’s assistant is giving him a blood transfusion while suturing up a stab wound in his stomach area. Good quips abound. The author, Mark Greaney, has a great imagination and is a terrific action writer. The book moves from action scene to action scene without letup, and I managed to read this very quickly.

The Gray Man is a “complex” character as well. He only seems to kill bad people, and he abhors acts of dishonesty. I have a feeling the author had a huge amount of fun writing this book, and creating difficult situations for the “Gray Man”. I enjoyed the author’s creativity, and my sense of disbelief was overshadowed by the cleverness of the almost absurd situations in which the “Gray Man” found himself.

I normally prefer a more intellectual story, but this one is a lot of fun. I highly recommend it. Buckle your seatbelt and have a really great ride.

I have read two other books in Mark Greaney’s “The Gray Man” series and enjoyed each of them, so I wanted to read his debut novel, so I sought it out. I was not disappointed.

Rating: 4.5/5.0

Link to Author’s Website:  https://markgreaneybooks.com/

Purchase Link: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B002N83GSA/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1

Review of “A Man Called Intrepid” by William Stevenson

 

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Author:   William Stevenson

Publication Date: 1976, 2014

Publisher:  Skyhorse Publishing

eISBN: 978-1-62914360-6

Source of Book: BookBub

Blurb:

The classic real-life story of the superspy whose vast intelligence network helped defeat the Nazis in World War II.

A Man Called Intrepid is the account of the world’s first integrated intelligence operation and of its master, William Stephenson (no relation to the author). Codenamed INTREPID by Winston Churchill, Stephenson was charged with establishing and running a vast, worldwide intelligence network to challenge the terrifying force of Nazi Germany. Nothing less than the fate of Britain and the free world hung in the balance as INTREPID covertly set about stalling the Nazis by any means necessary.

(Source of Blurb: Skyhorse Publishing)

Review:  This was an amazing book to read. A Man Called Intrepid proves that truth can be as exciting as fiction. I learned a great deal from this book that I hadn’t previously known. The book is really a series of true stories about operations run by Stephenson out of his headquarters in New York City. It brings light on some of the terrible decisions Churchill and Roosevelt had to make before and during World War II. I developed a greater appreciation of these giants as well as the numerous men and women who actually performed the operations described in this book. Many of them died at the hands of Nazi Germany, and many of those who lived received little or no recognition. The sacrifices these people made are awe-inspiring.

I recommend this book to anyone with an interest in World War II or espionage in general. For an aspiring writer, plotlines abound, interesting characters occur throughout, and magnificent stories of the conflicts inherent in espionage operations are well documented. The capture of the Enigma Machine and various related codebooks, the issues involved in the ill-fated, and infrequently discussed raid on Dieppe, and the exfiltration of Niels Bohr, and the raid on the Shell Building in Denmark are some of the particular operations that remain with me after reading “A Man Called Enigma”. It is a classic.

I obtained this book through a promotion on BookBub.

I posted this review in Goodreads and Amazon.

Rating: 4.8/5.0

Review of the “The Little Drummer Girl” by John LeCarré–the Television Series

“The Little Drummer Girl” by John LeCarré, was reworked into a televised series of 6 episodes. Since John LeCarré is at the top of my favorite authors list, I decided to watch this. I was not disappointed. This was a very entertaining adaptation of a great story.

“The Little Drummer Girl” concerns a low level actress who is recruited by Israeli Intelligence to infiltrate a group of Palestinian terrorists. She is recruited because of her acting skills, and her slightly leftist past provides a possible infiltration strategy. Her infiltration is successful, but conflicts over the risk she must take versus the benefits of the information she may provide increase as the series progresses. Also, she may have a love attraction with her control in Israeli intelligence as well as with some of her Palestinian contacts.

I was riveted for 6 hours watching this. Michael Shannon was particularly chilling as the Israeli agent orchestrating this operation. The other acting was highly professional, but just not standout for me. I felt there was some confusion at the beginning of the series as to what was happening. The fact that I had read “The Little Drummer Girl” some time ago helped me to follow the plot, but I imagine someone not familiar with LeCarré’s work might find it difficult to keep up with what is going on. The beginning seemed pretty true to LeCarré’s story, but the ending seemed quite different from what I had remembered from the book. It was still very much a LeCarré ending, however, albeit somewhat foggy and a little bit confusing.

Overall, this was an outstanding effort. If you are a fan of LeCarré’s brand of story, you will find this a great ride.