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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Review of Red Hotel by Gary Grossman and Edwin Fuller

Author:  Grossman, Gary and Fuller, Edwin

Publication Date: 2019

Publisher: Beaufort Books

ISBN: 9780825308901

Agent: Carol Mann, the Carol Mann Agency


Terrorists bomb a hotel in Tokyo, but the reverberations are felt around the world. A high ranking Kremlin diplomat is assassinated. A building in Kiev blows up. Russia begins to amass forces along its western borders. Former Army intelligence officer Dan Reilly, now an international hotel executive with high level access to the CIA, believes the plot is much bigger than anyone imagines, involving the empire-building, Putin-esque president of Russia.

Reilly begins a globe-hopping search for answers as the clock ticks down to a climactic event in Brussels that threatens NATO and the very security of member nations. RED HOTEL weaves his experiences into an incredibly timely global thriller that’s fiction on the edge of reality.

When a bomb rips through the facade of the Kensington Hotel in Tokyo, dozens are killed and injured while one man walks calmly away from the wreckage, a coy smile playing on his lips. Former Army intelligence office Dan Reilly, now an international hotel executive with high level to access to the CIA, makes it his mission to track him down.

(Source of Blurb:


This is a well-written, globe-hopping thriller, that delivers everything that a thriller enthusiast could want. The authors did a great job injecting current issues into the plot. The hotel industry plays a key role in “Red Hotel”, and the authors are quite knowledgeable about the business end of this industry and the problems faced by international hotel chains in an age of global terrorism. The book had a very real edge to it. The end of the book was very well-crafted, and provides a great example of a confrontation between the protagonist and the villain. The plot of the book was realistic, and consistent enough with current events to keep a reader on the edge of his seat.

 My criticisms include a plot that turned out to be overly complex, a few too many characters for my taste, and a main character that seemed to me to have a few too many capabilities. I would have enjoyed this book a lot more if the protagonist were more of a normal businessman caught up in abnormal circumstances.

Overall, this was a very enjoyable read for me and I moved through it quickly. The book was a collaborative effort between Mr. Grossman and Mr. Fuller, and they pulled it off well. I will be seeking out more novels written by each of the coauthors.

Rating: 4.2/5.0

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Review of “The Last Tourist” by Olen Steinhauer

Author: Steinhauer, OlenThe Last Tourist

Publication Date: March 2020

Publisher: Minotaur Books

Source of Book: advance copy from NetGalley


New York Times bestselling author Olen Steinhauer brings back Milo Weaver in a new novel. In Olen Steinhauer’s bestseller An American Spy, reluctant CIA agent Milo Weaver thought he had finally put “Tourists”—CIA-trained assassins—to bed. A decade later, Milo is hiding out in Western Sahara when a young CIA analyst arrives to question him about a series of suspicious deaths and terrorist chatter linked to him. Their conversation is soon interrupted by a new breed of Tourists intent on killing them both, forcing them to run. As he tells his story, Milo is joined by colleagues and enemies from his long history in the world of intelligence, and the young analyst wonders what to believe. He wonders, too, if he’ll survive this interview. After three standalone novels, Olen Steinhauer returns to the series that made him a bestseller.

(Source of Blurb: author website )


This is a complex, action-packed thriller with many foreign locales. It is a deep, very rich and complex plot, tied into current events. The research evidenced by the intricacy of the plot and the various locales is impressive. I believe readers who were familiar with the Milo Weaver series will enjoy this very much. There are some very strong, well-constructed women characters that add to the book’s appeal. The ending of the novel, set in Davos, Switzerland is the best part of the novel, and the author’s cleverness and skill are in evidence as the plot is concluded.

Unfortunately, I had not read any of Steinhauer’s previous work. I found this book very confusing with far too many characters, subplots, double-crosses and fake double crosses. There were also far too many locales, and at times I had to back up to see where I was. Some of this book is written in first person and some of it is written in third person. I found the changing point of views to add to the complexity. I think it depended far too much on the reader’s familiarity with Steinhauer’s previous books in the Milo Waver series.

I would recommend this book to readers already familiar with the Milo Weaver character and enjoyed what they read in previous entries to this series.

Rating: 3.0/5.0

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Review of “Rules of Civility” by Amor Towles

Author: Amor TowlesRules of Civility

Publication Date: 2011

Publisher: Penguin Books, Ltd.

ISBN: 987-0-670-02269-4

Blurb:  This sophisticated and entertaining first novel presents the story of a young woman whose life is on the brink of transformation. On the last night of 1937, twenty-five-year-old Katey Kontent is in a second-rate Greenwich Village jazz bar when Tinker Grey, a handsome banker, happens to sit down at the neighboring table. This chance encounter and its startling consequences propel Katey on a year-long journey into the upper echelons of New York society—where she will have little to rely upon other than a bracing wit and her own brand of cool nerve. With its sparkling depiction of New York’s social strata, its intricate imagery and themes, and its immensely appealing characters, Rules of Civility won the hearts of readers and critics alike.

(Source of Blurb: Author website)

Review:  This was a thoroughly enjoyable book. I would not classify it as a thriller, but probably would be considered literary fiction. In any case it is a very good, although very challenging book. The author captures New York City in the 1930’s and his love and respect for the city and its inhabitants is evident. New York is an exciting and formidable place.

Towles writes this book from the point of view of a woman finding herself in New York at a pivotal point in her life. She encounters a cast of characters who change and develop as the book progresses, and sometimes are not exactly what they seem at first glance. The city of New York is a major character as well.

“Rules of Civility” deals with class consciousness, and touches many levels of New York society with all their foibles and good points as well. The book is very literate, and has the strange effect of making the reader feel more intelligent as the book progresses.

My only complaint about this book is that I lost track of some of the characters from one chapter to another as they leave and reenter the protagonist’s life. I had to refer back to earlier chapters to remember some characters. I could imagine a very rewarding second reading of this book at a later point, and I don’t recall ever suggesting that in any of my reviews.

I recommend this book highly. It is not an easy read, but it is very rewarding. I also read “A Gentleman in Moscow” which to me was even better than “Rules of Civility.” No small accomplishment.

Rating: 4.5/5.0

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Review of “Agent Running in the Field” by John le Carré

Agent Running in the Field

Author:  John le Carre

Publication Date: 2019

Publisher: Viking

ISBN: 9781984878878

Source of Book:  Barnes and Noble


Nat, a 47 year-old veteran of Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service, believes his years as an agent runner are over. He is back in London with his wife, the long-suffering Prue. But with the growing threat from Moscow Centre, the office has one more job for him. Nat is to take over The Haven, a defunct substation of London General with a rag-tag band of spies. The only bright light on the team is young Florence, who has her eye on Russia Department and a Ukrainian oligarch with a finger in the Russia pie.

Nat is not only a spy, he is a passionate badminton player. His regular Monday evening opponent is half his age: the introspective and solitary Ed. Ed hates Brexit, hates Trump and hates his job at some soulless media agency. And it is Ed, of all unlikely people, who will take Prue, Florence and Nat himself down the path of political anger that will ensnare them all. Agent Running in the Field is a chilling portrait of our time, now heartbreaking, now darkly humorous, told to us with unflagging tension by the greatest chronicler of our age.

(Source of Blurb: Author Website)


John le Carré remains a master of the British espionage genre. While this book is not his best work, it remains a prime example of what I enjoy about British Spy fiction. It is tied into the current political scene. The U.S. is sort of a background villain here, which I dislike, but I have to admit we do make a good villain at times. Believable intelligence scenarios are created, and made into a very good plot line. There is little or no “action” that is so characteristic of American spy fiction, but some very well-written realistic operations. The level of suspense is high, and a shroud of moral ambiguity clouds the well-developed characters. No one does this better than Le Carré.

To me, the weak point of the book is the ending, which while satisfying to the reader, I found a little difficult to believe. I don’t think the characters could have pulled off what they pulled off in the last few chapters.

I recommend this book to fans of John le Carré, and to those who don’t mind seeing the U.S. as the bad guy. I also recommend this to those readers who like their plots intellectual rather than action-filled.

Rating:  4.4/5.0

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Review of “The New Girl” by Daniel Silva

Author: Daniel SilvaThe New Girl

Publication Date: 2019

Publisher: HarperCollins


Agent: Not known

Source of Book: Public Library


She was covered from head to toe in expensive wool and plaid, the sort of stuff one saw at the Burberry boutique in Harrods. She carried a leather bookbag rather than a nylon backpack. Her patent leather ballet slippers were glossy and bright. She was proper, the new girl, modest. But there was something else about her …

At an exclusive private school in Switzerland, mystery surrounds the identity of the beautiful raven-haired girl who arrives each morning in a motorcade fit for a head of state. She is said to be the daughter of a wealthy international businessman. In truth, her father is Khalid bin Mohammed, the much-maligned crown prince of Saudi Arabia. Once celebrated for his daring social and religious reforms, he is now reviled for his role in the murder of a dissident journalist. And when his only child is brutally kidnapped, he turns to the one man he can trust to find her before it is too late.

What’s done cannot be undone …

Gabriel Allon, the legendary chief of Israeli intelligence, has spent most of his life fighting terrorists, including the murderous jihadists financed by Saudi Arabia. Prince Khalid—or KBM, as he is known—has pledged to finally break the bond between the Kingdom and radical Islam. For that reason alone, Gabriel regards him as a valuable if flawed partner. Together they will become unlikely allies in a deadly secret war for control of the Middle East. The life of a child, and the throne of Saudi Arabia, hang in the balance. Both men have made their share of enemies. And both have everything to lose.

Filled with dark humor, breathtaking twists of plot, and an unforgettable cast of characters, The New Girl is both a thrilling, page-turning tale of entertainment and a sophisticated study of political alliances and great-power rivalries in a dangerous world. And it is once again proof that Gabriel Allon is “one of fiction’s greatest spies” (Kirkus) and Daniel Silva is “quite simply the best” (Kansas City Star) writer of foreign intrigue and suspense at work today.

(Source of Blurb: Author website)


Daniel Silva does it again. His book, The New Girl is brilliant. His characters are well-drawn, complex, and true to life. His plots are intricate, related to current events, plausible, and tense. He brings a variety of settings to life as well. His research and attention to detail is thorough, but never overwhelming. This book is no exception.

Silva deals with the complexities of Middle Eastern politics in The New Girl, and weaves in events that have been “ripped from the headlines”. This is a tough task, and Silva pulls it off. His plot is believable and complex enough to satisfy a knowledgeable reader of espionage, but is so well written that it can be enjoyed by a thriller reader with minimal knowledge of espionage.

In particular, I enjoy Silva’s conclusions, and even his Author’s Note. I look forward to these. He draws things together at the end, and does it quite nicely in The New Girl.

I have to look pretty hard for criticisms here, but I have a few points that I didn’t like. Please pardon my pickiness, and don’t let them deter you from a great read by a master in the genre. I had a little trouble with the character of Sarah Bancroft falling in love so quickly. I also had some trouble with the Rebecca Manning character. Although Silva does a great job weaving in the characters’ backstories, I feel the Rebecca Manning character in the New Girl, would have been more believable if the reader had read Silva’s prior work that introduced her. I believe this was The Other Woman, and I would recommend a reader enjoy that novel before reading this one.

Rating: 4.9/5.0

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Review of “Into the Fire” by Gregg Hurwitz

Into the Fire

Author: Gregg Hurwicz

Publication Date: 2020

Publisher: Minotaur Books

Source of Book: NetGalley


Evan Smoak—also known as Orphan X—faces an explosive situation…

Evan Smoak lives by his own code. Trained as an off-the-books government assassin they named Orphan X, he broke with the program and reinvented himself as The Nowhere Man, a figure hidden in the shadows who helps the truly desperate. Now, free of the Program for good, he turns to a dangerously uncertain future…

Max Merriweather’s at the end of his rope. His cousin’s been brutally murdered, leaving Max an envelope that contains nothing but a mysterious key. It seems a simple enough case for The Nowhere Man to unlock. But behind each threat he takes out, a deadlier one emerges—until it’s clear that they’re facing a city-wide terror and a mission that requires Evan Smoak to put himself at more risk than he’s ever faced before as he’s sent out of the dark and INTO THE FIRE.

(Source of Blurb: Author Website)


This is a well-written, action-packed story featuring the author’s signature character, Evan Smoak, also known as Orphan X. I enjoyed reading the book, and enjoyed the character’s ability to do impossible things with only a very few tools of the trade. This writer is very clever. Of course, he does like to load up with exotic weapons as he goes out to perform righteous violence on those despicable villains that deserve his special treatment.

To me, a high point of the book was his visit to a prison, where he performs the impossible with a cake of soap and a staple. Very clever stuff. Another high point was a scene where he is receiving texts from an evil character threatening him with dismemberment and worse, but is in the middle of a condominium meeting discussing much more mundane issues. The juxtaposition between the banal and the deep evil struck a chord with me. I really enjoyed the touch of humor.

My criticisms of the book stem from the fact that this was the first Orphan X book I read, and I was unfamiliar with the character. The author tries to weave in the backstory without overdoing it for loyal readers of the series. As a new reader, I needed a little more backstory. I am still confused about some of the protagonist’s quirks. The floating bed mystified me, and the character’s obsession with vodka in all its forms didn’t seem to have much to do with the story, but I found it entertaining. Orphan X is surrounded by supporting characters that provide him with incredible computer support and weapons when needed. Sometimes this was too convenient, and I appreciated it when Orphan X was left to his own resources.

I recommend this book if you are a fan of the Orphan X series. If you are a newcomer, I suggest starting with one of the earlier books in the series. Orphan X’s quirky but interesting character traits might be better understood and appreciated with some additional explanation.

I would like to thank NetGalley and Minotaur Books for providing me with an advance copy.

Rating: 4.0/5.0

Link to Author’s Website:

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A Gentleman in Moscow

This may be the ultimate book to read during the coronavirus lockdown. If you feel you are having trouble with your own lockdown conditions you should read about this gentleman’s lockdown situation. Very inspirational.

Author: Amor TowlesA Gentleman in Moscow

Publication Date: 2016

Publisher: Viking, an imprint of Penguin Random House

ISBN: 9780670026197

Agent: Not known


With his breakout debut novel, Rules of Civility, Amor Towles established himself as a master of absorbing, sophisticated fiction, bringing late 1930s Manhattan to life with splendid atmosphere and a flawless command of style. Readers and critics were enchanted; as NPR commented, “Towles writes with grace and verve about the mores and manners of a society on the cusp of radical change.”

A Gentleman in Moscow immerses us in another elegantly drawn era with the story of Count Alexander Rostov. When, in 1922, he is deemed an unrepentant aristocrat by a Bolshevik tribunal, the count is sentenced to house arrest in the Metropol, a grand hotel across the street from the Kremlin. Rostov, an indomitable man of erudition and wit, has never worked a day in his life, and must now live in an attic room while some of the most tumultuous decades in Russian history are unfolding outside the hotel’s doors. Unexpectedly, his reduced circumstances provide him a doorway into a much larger world of emotional discovery.

Brimming with humor, a glittering cast of characters, and one beautifully rendered scene after another, this singular novel casts a spell as it relates the count’s endeavor to gain a deeper understanding of what it means to be a man of purpose.

(Source of Blurb: Author website)


This is a very enjoyable, educational and even inspirational book. It was one of the best books I have read in a very long time.

It celebrates education and character, and shows how one can deal with difficult circumstances. “A Gentleman from Moscow” is an uplifting read, and I found myself really liking the protagonist and his struggles. It was a challenging book, and different from my usual run of thrillers that are almost formulaic. This book shows the joy that can be derived from an innovative and well-crafted piece of fiction.

In short, this was terrific, from beginning to end. Don’t miss it.

Rating: 5.0/5.0

Link to Author’s Website:

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Rural Russia

Rural RussiaAs an aspiring  thriller writer, I have a curiosity and an almost inexplicable desire to learn as much as I can about Russia, which loomed as a dark, unknown entity during much of the Cold War. When I came across a documentary on Amazon Prime TV, I couldn’t help myself and turned it on.

I am not sure who filmed the documentary, or whether or not they had any agenda, but I found myself riveted toward this very strange and primitive film about parts of Russia I had only read about. The documentary was not fancy or artistic, but was a look at parts of this very vast country that were not pretty, and certainly very far off the tourist track. There was no political commentary, just a narrator looking at various sights without passing any value judgement.

The documentary took a train ride out of Moscow through some incredibly industrialized portions of Russia that seemed like an endless vista consisting of nothing but factories, and I mean nothing. It was not a pretty sight. The documentary visited a prison, and interviewed some guards and some prisoners. Again, not a pretty sight. The documentary visited a farm and did not pull any punches about how hard and primitive a life the farmers and their families led. Finally, the documentary visited a dacha, a summer house, where city workers were able to escape from the stresses of a very crowded and intense city life. The narrator said you could capture the “soul of Russia” in these places where ordinary city workers went to unwind and get back to their heritage and relax. No luxury here, and very basic living conditions, but the inhabitants seemed to enjoy this very simple life.

I can’t say I enjoyed the documentary, as it did not paint a pretty picture, but I have to say it was very honest and seemed open. I can’t say I understand the “soul of Russia” from this documentary, but I can say these are pretty tough folks who make the best out of some difficult conditions. It is worth watching, if you want to see a side of Russia rarely seen in the U.S.

A blurb found on Amazon described the documentary:

This documentary covers rural Russian life. There aren’t any supermarkets, shopping malls, highways or airports. Just family, friends, 8,000,000 square kilometers of wilderness. We begin with a train ride and a boat ride to reach rural Russia. We will take a tour of N240 Prison and we’ll follow the life of a Russian farmer.

You can find this video at this link: