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Twisted Prey - John Sandford

The Spy Who Came In From The Cold - John LeCarre

UNSUB - Meg Gardiner

A Spy Named Orphan by Roland Philipps

How It Happened by Michael Koryta

The Word Is Murder - Anthony Horowitz

Star of the North - D.B. John

The Sinners - Ace Atkins

The Outsider - Stephen King

Spymaster - Brad Thor

The Other Woman - Daniel Silva

The Man Between - Charles Cumming 

Operation Mincemeat - Ben Macintyre 

Berlin: Caught in the Mousetrap by Paul Grant 

Berlin Game - Len Deighton (for the Spybrary book club)

Desolation Mountain - William Kent Krueger

Podcast Favorites . (The life and Legacy of Ian Fleming, with author and historian Jeremy Duns, always an excellent and entertaining interview) . (the true story of Oleg Penkovsky, regarded by many as the greatest spy of the Cold War era - with Jeremy Duns, whose book on the topic, Dead Drop, is a classic) (wonderful history of Ian Fleming's involvement at Bletchley Park during WWII, and Anthony Horowitz making a presentation about his new James Bond novel, Forever And A Day. "How I Nearly Started World War III" with Mark Valley, host of the Live Drop Espionage podcast



Anthony Horowitz signed Forever And A Day

Thank you, , for delivering my signed copy of Forever And A Day in superb shape. It arrived today, a time when I needed some good news!


Recent Spy & Espionage podcast episodes

These are some of my favorite, recent spy & espionage podcast episodes. Fascinating content, interesting, smart guests, nice audio quality... get your headphones on! . (The life and Legacy of Ian Fleming, with author and historian Jeremy Duns, always an excellent and entertaining interview)  (the true story of Oleg Penkovsky, regarded by many as the greatest spy of the Cold War era - with Jeremy Duns, whose book on the topic, Dead Drop, is a classic)




 (wonderful history of Ian Fleming's involvement at Bletchley Park during WWII, and Anthony Horowitz making a presentation about his new James Bond novel, Forever And A Day. 




 "How I Nearly Started World War III" with Mark Valley, host of the Live Drop Espionage podcast


Dropping Bloody Sunday in favor of Operation Mincemeat

Let me see if I can anger more military thriller fans. Tonight I slogged through 90 pages of Ben Coes' upcoming Bloody Sunday (July publication), was frustrated all the while, and put it down. Can't do it. Unlikely premise, lack of characterization, and I sense an upcoming one-man secret mission to North Korea involving nuclear warheads and carnage. I stopped reading after the principal character showed up at Langley, in shorts and t-shirt, no I.D., and walked through layers of security to the inner sanctum on the basis the guards know him by sight. It all exhausts me. I've poured some chilled rose, put my feet up, and am going to re-read Ben Macintyre's Operation Mincemeat to cleanse my palate!


Finding Books in the American West

I spent last week driving from Wisconsin to Denver, Colorado. Unlike some of my trips, the intent wasn’t to unearth used bookstores. My  father-in-law was co-pilot, and eventually we’d meet our wives in Denver, all gathered to visit grandchildren and family. However, why not attempt to discover book shops along the way? I wasn’t going to focus on books; that would have been selfish and added a day to our drive, I imagine. On my own, who knows how zig-zag my path would have ended up? Our plan was to use two-lane highways, with no plan or itinerary. This means small or middle-sized towns.

Getting out of Wisconsin is a three-hour drive west through farmland. LaCrosse awaits on the Mississippi, the college town I uncovered two nice bookshops in a couple of weeks ago. As Pearl Street Books shares space with a great coffee shop, I steered us there as it’s “on the way.” A quick scan of relevant shelving revealed nothing new for me, and possibly even greater disarray of their inventory. They do feature awesome rolling ladders on the walls, though, a feature of great interest to me.

Continuing west into South Dakota, hours and small towns went by with no indication that people can purchase books in person. Anywhere. Tractors and trucks; yes. Liquor and guns; sure. After about ten hours driving we landed, late, in Brookings for the night. Early the next morning at breakfast I used Google to discover what appears to be a quality used bookstore, Brookings Book Co., but it’s 10:00 a.m. opening was two hours past our hit-the-road time. Maybe I’ll get there some day.

Hours later, same day, Sturgis and Wall Drug behind us, still in South Dakota, Rapid City is on the horizon. By now I’m in bookstore withdrawal, and Google what sounds like a decent place, Everybody’s Bookstore. Located in an appropriately dodgy part of town, boasting 35,000 used books, I pull up with a hopeful smile. 

Alas, I’m greeted with what appears to be 34,000 paperbacks. The fiction aisle has stacks of Patterson, Grisham, C.J. Box, Sandford, Steele, etc., on the floor, blocking shelved books. I’m not a fan of this mode of display, but I diligently moved all of them so as not to miss any buried treasure. My vision of runs of Adam Hall hardbacks, dusty from years of neglect but in great shape, vaporized. 

Another annoyance in this rather large and over-filled shop were the seemingly random decisions about where books go. I found mysteries in all sorts of crannies, thrillers here and there, with only basic use of the alphabet. Never did unearth a history area. Stock was not curated at all; I anticipate the owner shelved for sale every copy of each book walking in the door. She told me her only means of acquiring inventory was to buy what was offered; no estate sales.


Criticism aside, at least the bookstore exists. I pulled two nice hardcovers, an Ian Rankin I didn’t own, and a nice condition, easy VG, Clancy Hunt For Red October United States Naval Institute edition. $4 each. My father-in-law found a few western paperbacks he liked and purchased.


Continuing to drive, by early evening we were still in South Dakota, stopping in Gillette. With another early start, I didn’t search online for book shops. However, hours later, now headed south into Colorado, I suggested we stop in Ft. Collins, one of my favorite towns in the area, for coffee and a walk and lunch. In this fun, micro-brewery-packed outdoor adventure town, is Booklovers Used Bookstore. 


Walking through their doors, I was relieved to see aisles at least 25% stocked with hardcovers. The shop is clean and unusually well lighted, something I appreciate. Again, seemingly random order to things, so I examined every aisle and display. I purchased three clean, tight, excellent-shape books here, again for little money. Another Rankin, Then We Take Berlin by John Lawton and the little-seen (by me) The Saboteur by Andrew Gross. 


Our stay in Arvada, outside Denver, was family-oriented and fun, featuring CBD coffee and lots of wonderful locally micro-brewed beer. However, on day two, I discovered a gem of a little book shop hidden in a touristy area only four blocks from our lodging. Book Cranny is superb. Nothing on the shelves is other than in wonderful shape, and prices are surprisingly realistic. A great touch is the long list of authors whose books are to be found only in the back room by request; Grisham, Patterson, Steele, etc. I should have shot a photo of the poster, but it was a good two dozen names long. Such assurance that the shelves in the store are higher quality enhanced my browsing experience.

I scored at Book Cranny. Check out these four Helen MacInnes spy novels. Discovering them on a shelf, in damn good condition other than foxed dust jackets, for $3 each, made my day! The Martin Cruz Smith Red Square and Ignatius Body of Lies, same price, are dessert. I was pretty happy leaving the shop. Any good used bookstore may or may not have the Smith and Ignatius titles at any one time, but the MacInnes works are unusual.

Denver itself probably has plenty of used book shops. I was a good half hour outside of downtown, busy with family, and only had two opportunities to venture into Denver and look for books. Tattered Cover is the long-time, well-known fixture in Denver, with a legacy of author signings. I was excited to visit. After determining what I thought was the flagship store, my wife and I ventured downtown. On the same block is what turned out to be a fabulous restaurant with outdoor seating, The Goods, so we enjoyed a nice lunch and a couple of drinks in the 96 degree heat. Afterwards I headed into Tattered Cover, full of anticipation, while Anne sat outside in the shade, comfortably reading the book she brought along, assuming I may be in the shop for 60-90 minutes. She knows me. 


Ten minutes later I was outside, showing her my empty hands. I was ready to cry (not really, but my disappointment was vivid on my face, she told me). All the Tattered Cover shops (four in town) are 99% new, trade paperback inventory now! The name of the stores is legacy; there are very few used books mixed in. At this big Colfax Avenue store, above the buying desk, unbelievably hangs a sign telling those bringing in books to sell that due to volume issues, Tattered Cover now limits their purchases to 12 books! What? Clearly they don’t want to buy used books any longer.


I thought my book searching on this trip was done, but a couple of days later, Monday afternoon, a two hour gap presented itself. A quick Google search helped me decide The Hermitage Bookshop, in downtown Denver, should be my goal. I headed in. The traffic! OMG.

Walking in the doors of Hermitage, I knew I’d made the correct decision. I was home. Hardcovers only. Beautiful crafted bookcases and displays. Signed author copies - dozens of them. Floor to ceiling racks of First Editions only. Quiet. Every book slipcased and beautiful. Organization. Don’t I sound like a old foggy? 

Hermitage was stablished in 1973. These people know books. I found myself in a long conversation with the owners about old records, the intrinsic value of hardcover books, collecting, literature and writing, estate sales, responding to the daily phone calls announcing “grandad died and left a valuable, wonderful book collection you should buy.”


I could easily have spent a couple of thousand dollars in this establishment, and a couple more hours. After holding in my hands three different Len Deighton First Editions, a bunch of beautiful Fleming hardcovers, a signed Clancy (actually, it was behind glass so I couldn’t caress it), and passing on some Robert Parker and George Pelecanos titles I’d like to own, I was running out of time and had to leave. Treasures unseen remain, I’m certain. I filled two blanks in my Ben Macintyre collection. Operation Mincemeat is a great book I listened to on Audible years ago, but now I have a beautiful copy for my collection. For Your Eyes Only - Ian Fleming + James Bond, is a welcome addition. Each was $20. I was so happy to find these books (Mincemeat has become difficult to locate in shops in the Midwest lately, in my experience). 

I’ll return to Hermitage next trip to Denver, and may be calling then about those Deighton First Editions. As I was finishing my conversation with the owners and leaving, he asked me how I liked their LeCarre section. I hadn’t even found it! Yeah, I’ll be back.






UNSUB by Meg Gardiner

Characterizing books as “page turners”, or “you’ll be up all night reading this one”, have lost impact with me. Sometimes, when writers I enjoy and trust have written blurbs, I jump in.  Often I wonder if they really read the book. My rambling point is UNSUB is frankly superior to the reach of any author’s blurb or review.


Yeah, I know I’m burying the lead, but damn, Meg Gardiner’s UNSUB is captivating and spell-binding. I did find myself up late at night, in need of sleep, turning the pages. UNSUB is a Hall of Fame thriller, one of the most engaging novels I’ve read. Ever.

I'm familiar with Meg Gardiner’s work and expected a great novel, but UNSUB changes the game. Gardiner’s young, inexperienced detective, Caitlin Hendrix, raises the bar for every series built around a main character. (if you haven’t read Into The Black Nowhere, successor to UNSUB, stop reading for a moment, open your Amazon tab or drive to the bookstore, and order it immediately).

In the powerful UNSUB, Hendrix finds herself falling into detective work to the point she worries for her own sanity. Even as others share the building, powerful stress with her, pursuing the same serial killer, running headlong into situations that crushed her father, Caitlin rallies her resolve and moves forward at any cost. 

Meg Gardiner is able to write about the dark side in people in a unique manner. She brings things alive. UNSUB is fiction at it’s best. I was scared and thrilled and tense at the same time. Constantly! Who writes this way, with this much punch? I find myself slowing down, re-reading sentences to enjoy their structure and power and letting the motion picture in my head go to slow-motion. Damn, I can’t shake it, you won’t put it down, and you’ll need an extra copy to give to a friend.

For more Meg Gardiner, absorb her powerful essay published in Signature, titled Growing Up In Santa Barbara While the Golden State Killer Was At Large. 

@MegGardiner1, #UNSUB, #DuttonBooks, @TomColgan14