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

Blurb:

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:https://www.simonandschuster.com/books/Spy/Ted-Bell/9780743277242 )

Review:

“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

Link to Author’s Website:  https://www.tedbell.com/

Purchase Link: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=Ted+Bell+Spy&ref=nb_sb_noss_2

 

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

Blurb: 

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: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/41079020-jinnik)

Review:

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

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

Purchase Link: https://www.amazon.com/Jinnik-Asset-Gideon-D-Asche/dp/1684330475

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

Blurb:

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:  redhotel.com)

Review: 

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

Link to Author’s Website:  https://www.garygrossman.com/

Purchase Link: https://www.amazon.com/RED-Hotel-Ed-Fuller/dp/0825308909

Review of “The New Girl” by Daniel Silva

Author: Daniel SilvaThe New Girl

Publication Date: 2019

Publisher: HarperCollins

ISBN:978-0-06-283483-6

Agent: Not known

Source of Book: Public Library

Blurb:

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)

Review:

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

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

Purchase Link: https://www.amazon.com/Unti-Silva-Novel-Gabriel-Allon-ebook/dp/B07F18LND4/ref=sr_1_2?keywords=The+New+Girl&qid=1582386904&sr=8-2

 

Review of “The Terminal List” by Jack Carr

 

The Terminal List

Author:  Jack Carr (joint pseudonym)

Publication Date: March 2018

Publisher: First Emily Betsler Books / Atria Books

ISBN: 978-1-5011-8081-1

Agent: Alexandria Machinist

Source of Book: Borrowed from local library

Blurb:

On his last deployment as a Navy Seal, Lieutenant Commander James Reece’s entire team was killed in a catastrophic ambush that also claimed the lives of the aircrew sent in to rescue them. But when those dearest to him are murdered on the day of his homecoming, Reece discovers that this was not an act of war by a foreign enemy but a conspiracy that runs to the highest levels of his own government. They have taken everything from him. Now it’s his turn.

With nothing left to lose, Reece applies lessons learned in more than a decade of constant warfare toward avenging the death of his family and teammates. In a thriller told with breathless pacing and relentless suspense, Reece ruthlessly targets his enemies in Washington’s upper echelons without regard for the laws of combat or the rules of law.

Driven by the love of his family and country and an undying need for revenge, James Reece is on a one-man mission to confront the corruption of absolute power and those who would do anything to achieve it.

(Source of Blurb: inside dust cover)

Review:

This book is riveting. I enjoyed it from beginning to end. I highly recommend this debut novel. It is masterful.

While I find the ex-Navy Seal superhero main character is a little overused in today’s thriller market, this one is very well done. Steve Berry writes a blurb on the back of the dust cover “Double the trouble, twice the action, and quadruple the enjoyment. Careful while reading this, it could leave a mark.” Consider me marked. This tale of revenge and righteous violence struck a chord with me. I found it emotionally engaging, powerfully written, and surprising in its depth. I am not a  weapons or tactics expert, but I would guess Jack Carr has his weapons and tactics presented with the highest possible level of accuracy. His detail is astounding, but not at all overwhelming to this non-technical reader. Carr has a great story to tell here. It is sufficiently anchored in reality to frighten the reader. The story has enough twists and turns to keep the reader guessing, and the suspense continues until the very last page.

My only criticism is a very tiny one. I found the bad guys a little bit too evil to be believable. Once you buy into the bad guys, however, there is a really clever, emotionally complex story.

I also posted this review on Amazon and Goodreads.

Rating: 4.9 / 5.0

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

Purchase Link: https://www.amazon.com/Terminal-List-Thriller-Jack-Carr-ebook/dp/B074ZL7LY1/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=The+Terminal+list&qid=1550936793&s=gateway&sr=8-1

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.

Review of “A Man Called Intrepid” by William Stevenson

 

a man called intrepid

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 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.

Review of “The Billion Dollar Spy” by David Hoffman

“The Billion Dollar Spy”  by David E. Hoffman, is a 2015 non-fiction account of what is known of Adolph Tolkachev, a highly productive spy for the United States. Tolkachev was an employee in the scientific community of the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Until he was caught by the KGB, he delivered what was probably the most valuable information the CIA ever received about aviation and radar research and development activity in Moscow.  I enjoyed this well-written book immensely. It reads like a good thriller, and you cannot help becoming emotionally involved in the lives of the main characters. You are told early on that Tolkachev will not survive, but that knowledge did not spoil the book for me, but made it all the more tragic.

The book is non-fiction, based on archival research as well as interviews with some of the participants. It reads like a good thriller and was very difficult to put down. It captured the atmosphere of the Cold War, and portrayed the complexities and dangers of running a spy in Moscow during that time. It provides good background on what diplomats and CIA employees went through while being stationed in Moscow, and gives the reader a great appreciation of the difficulty and courage involved in this work. There is no glamour here. The stress involved in doing covert work in Moscow while under almost constant surveillance by the KGB is evident, as is the personal toll this work took on all concerned.

The largest personal toll was paid by the spy himself, Adolph Tolkachev, who wanted little more than to provide as much information as possible to the West that would do the maximum damage to the Soviet Union which he had grown to loathe. The bravery and obstinance of this complex man was evident throughout, and his willingness to continue providing the CIA information as the KGB’s net grew tighter around him is admirable, but difficult to comprehend. The life of a spy in Moscow in those times was certainly not a particularly good one. Tolkachev’s tragedy is made even more poignant knowing that he actually got little that was useful to him in return from the United States. He demanded large amounts of money, but was really not able to spend it. It seemed to be a form of scorekeeping to him, a measure of his personal worth. The value of the information he provided was far in excess of any benefits he may have received. The CIA was reluctant to provide him with even very simple rewards, like rock music for his son, since being found with such material not readily available in the Soviet Union would have opened him up to unwelcome scrutiny. The author hints, that many lives were saved in our conflicts in Iraq since the United States had vastly superior air power than Iraq. The Russian-provided technology used by Iraq was able to be defeated easily since the United States had extensive knowledge of weaknesses in Soviet aviation and radar largely due to information provided by Tolkachev.

I read this book to get a handle on realistic information on how the CIA operated in Moscow. Although much of the information is now outdated, the stresses, strains and personal tolls paid in the pursuit of actionable on-the-ground intelligence are well presented in this outstanding work. Real spying work involves long and tedious surveillance detection runs, and reading in closets to avoid the scrutiny of any planted video cameras. The presence of deep personal tragedy runs throughout. The wrenching ethical decisions of balancing the demands for more information against the personal risk taken by the provider of that information are clear here. These are tough decisions.

I purchased this book at the “Mysterious Bookstore” in New York during my visit there to attend Thrillerfest. It was well worth the purchase.

I also posted this in Goodreads.

Review of “The President is Missing” by Bill Clinton and James Patterson

 

I wanted to dislike “The President is Missing” by Bill Clinton and James Patterson. After all, a cynic might say that a book co-written by an ex-president and one of the country’s most commercially successful and prolific novelists might be an easy means to cash in on their respective successes. I felt this book would be a huge best-seller no matter what it contained, but most likely would not live up to the book’s promise.  I have to admit I was completely wrong about this book. This was a really interesting read, and although I found it a bit tedious at times, I thoroughly enjoyed its conclusion. The last third of the book held my attention like a good thriller should. The authors combined the intimate knowledge of the Presidency that only an ex-president would have, with the superb writing craft of a best-selling author. It worked! “The President is Missing” will be a best seller, and it deserves it on its own, not just on the prior accomplishments of its coauthors.

The book starts when the president decides he is the only one who can stop an immediate crisis. The premise sounds far-fetched, but Clinton and Patterson pull it off. It is very believable. The book is largely written from the first person point of view of the president of the United States, facing congressional hearings, personal issues, and an unfriendly political landscape. I found the first few chapters, dealing with the machination of congressional hearings, to be completely riveting, with the voice of an ex-president who is familiar with the process coming through loud and clear. The first few chapters were, in my opinion, the strongest part of the book. The middle of the book moved very slowly for me, but the conclusion held my attention to the very last page. I look forward to another installment in the collaborative effort of Clinton and Patterson.

The book has a few weaknesses, in my opinion, but none that should discourage a potential reader from investing some time into “The President is Missing”. I felt the characters could have been developed more fully. The character of the president is the most fully developed, as I would have expected.  Perhaps one might criticize this character as being a little too saint-like. The characters who surrounded the president could have been a lot richer. Even the bad guys in this book could have been fleshed out a little more. My major criticism of the book was that it was a bit preachy, with the president prone to long speeches that detracted a little bit from the plot. I guess ex-presidents can do that and get away with it. Clinton and Patterson certainly got away with it. The preaching did not detract from my enjoyment at all.

I obtained this 2018 book as a gift from a family member. I also posted a copy of this review in Goodreads.