Search This Site
Facebook
Follow Stuff I Like on Twitter
My Book Reading

Berlin: Caught in the Mousetrap by Paul Grant 

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

Desolation Mountain - William Kent Krueger

Forever and a Day - Anthony Horowitz

MI5 and Me: A Coronet Among the Spooks by Charlotte Bingham

Second Strike: A Thriller by Peter Kirsanow

The Fourth Protocol - Frederick Forsyth

Agent of Influence - Jeremy Duns

The Middle-Man by Olen Steinhauer

Handsome Johnny by Lee Server

The Company by Robert Littell

The Battle of Arnhem - Antony Beevor

Lethal White - Robert Galbraith

War of the Wolf - Bernard Cornwll

Red War - Kyle Mills

Dark Sacred Night - Michael Connelly

The Spy and the Traitor by Ben Macintyre

currently reading Mycroft and Sherlock by Abdul-Jabbar and Waterhouse

Podcast Favorites

Intrigue: The Ratline is so compelling I listened to the introductory interview with Philippe Sands on Dan Snow's History Hit podcast, then the first six episodes from BBC 4, all in one day! The Ratline was the route used by Nazi war criminals who escaped from Western Europe at the close of World War II, and were routed through Rome, ending up in Argentina, mostly. Sands has a vested interest in the topic, as most of his family was executed during the Nazi roundups of the Jewish population in the Ukraine. The show centers around Otto Wächter. He was the Nazi Governor of Galicia, now western Ukraine, a region where almost the entire Jewish population was murdered in the Holocaust. After the war, he spent three years in the Austrian mountains, before crossing into Italy and obtaining forged identity papers. Sands has cultivated a relationship with Otto's son, now aged and living in a hundreds-of-years-old castle, with a fascinating library of books, letters, papers and other materials related to his father's life.


Whether you are interested in World War II, history in general, or compelling stories and podcasts, this will keep you listening and learning. The great Stephen Fry lends his voice to each episode, and in the sixth, John Le Carre appears as an integral background source. The Ratline is scheduled for ten episodes; six have been released to date.

https://www.acast.com/dansnowshistoryhit/theratlinewithphilippesands

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/3yKShfkRx3SW5yc7QX3rhcb/nazis-on-the-run-the-ratline


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Want to sort out the bullshit and bro-knowledge about nutrition and learn how science really plays into your results? Frustrated with your workouts and lack of progress, wondering if you should "be" Keto or Paleo or what? Listen two or three times to Layne Norton and Don D'Agostino on the Joe Rogan podcast (and eagerly awaited appearance), and get truthed!

https://player.fm/series/the-joe-rogan-experience-142216/ep-1176-dom-dagostino-layne-norton

Thursday
Nov012018

Dark Sacred Night by Michael Connelly

 

Combining his eternal Harry Bosch (headliner of 31 novels previous to this one), with Detective Renee Ballard, introduced only last year, is a gutty play by supreme crime novelist Connelly. I’m here to assure you Dark Sacred Night is a taut, seamless, murder mystery true to the Harry Bosch canon. 

Ballard insinuates herself into Connelly’s world slowly, as the two of them learn to trust each other. They come together under odd circumstances. Ballard has been relegated to overnight hours, as punishment for reporting her ex-partner’s harassment of her. Bosch is digging through cold cases, his job now as a semi-retired detective, and when he digs into the grisly murder of Daisy Clayton, a series of coincidences and shared concerns and clues make allies of Renee and Harry. 

Connelly allows his stories to breathe. Reading, I never feel rushed. Events develop at a steady, low-key pace, and I rarely map out clues before Harry Bosch (and in this case, Renee Ballard also). I enjoy the laconic attitude of Bosch (in a pinch, he’ll do the right thing), and in combination with the upright, ethical Ballard, both of them are forced to compromise and think through clues differently.

Dark Sacred Night centers on a complex murder investigation, one that changes shape and is elusive. As Bosch and Ballard close in on the truth, I was struck by how Connelly’s prose dealing with the two detectives, together, seemed to tighten up. 

 Longtime fans of Harry Bosch will find everything they look forward to in Dark Sacred Night. This is a gritty murder mystery with complex plotting, extreme realism and detail, plus some surprising side characters. Renee Ballard adds texture to the story, and brings out some welcome aspects of personality and character in Bosch. I found Dark Sacred Night fully satisfying in every way.

@ConnellyBooks, @LittleBrown

 

Wednesday
Oct312018

War of the Wolf by Bernard Cornwell

I’ll begin with a declarative sentence: War of the Wolf may be Bernard Cornwell’s finest novel.

Some may think I’m stretching, but I don’t think so. I’ve been reading Cornwell for years, dating back to his Richard Sharpe series. Since then the prolific author has penned some standalone novels, and the wonderful Shakespearean Fools and Mortals, but his concentration has been the ongoing 9th Century Saxon Tales series, of which War of the Wolf is the eleventh entry.

This time period, critical to the formation of civilization and society in the British Isles, the age of Alfred the Great, vividly comes alive in the stories and through the life of Uhtred of Bebbanburg. In War of the Wolf readers find Uhtred at the old age  of 64 (ancient in the 9th century). He’s lord of Bebbanburg, still respected and very much a regional decision-maker, but peace among the Danes, Scots, and Saxons is always a tenuous prospect. Alliances are fluid. At the heart of matters is the divide between Christians and pagans. Lord Uhtred is a proud pagan, but lives, fights and respects Christians and everyone alike (or not). 

The Norseman Skoll becomes Uhtred’s foe, after his Vikings invade, with designs on Uhtred’s lands and fortresses. King Alfred has left a leadership void, he’s aging badly, and Skoll tries to take advantage, waging war on Uhtred and his allies. Not only are Skoll and his allies are eventually done away with, and Uhtred gains revenge of sorts for his daughter’s death at Skoll’s hand. 

Along the way is an engaging wild-goose-chase. Uhtred is led astray by wily maneuvers on the part of his foes. For a while he’s even unsure who is behind some of the moves being made; it’s as if the British Isles are a big, rugged chess board. Uhtred may be one of the most important players, but at times he can’t even see his opponent’s pieces.

Lord Uhtred exemplifies loyalty, honor of a sort, dedication to his craft and his friends, family and his word. A commitment made by Uhtred carries weight, as do oaths of loyalty. These high standards play a significant role in the storyline of War of the Wolf.

Those unfamiliar with Bernard Cornwell’s Saxon Tales series need not worry they have to read these books in publication order. Yes, Uhtred and his family and King Alfred and the era are consistent, yet each book stands well alone. Within every set of covers is an adventure tale full of action, emotions of every stripe; history brought alive.

Cornwell writes stirring, crisply detailed and moving action scenes. Going into battle with Uhtred, as a reader, is exciting. Often I find myself re-reading pages. As acclaimed as Cornwell is for his battle scenes, he should receive similar acclaim for dialogue. Conversation between Uhtred and his officers is amusing and poignant, notably before and after battle. It’s even better when he comes across an old soldier who served with him earlier in life; their retrospective comments are admission-worthy.

War Of the Wolf is exciting ancient military history, engaging adventure, woven together with superior dialogue and writing.

@Harperbooks, @BernardCornwell, #warofthewolf

 

Tuesday
Oct232018

The Spy and the Traitor by Ben Macintyre

So you want me to tell you about a book John le Carre calls “The best true spy story I have ever read”? How about you take the master’s word at face value, buy the book and get to opening the cover?

If Macintyre hadn’t used “the greatest espionage story of the cold war” as his subtitle every reviewer would have utilized the line. 

You’re stuck with my thoughts and reaction to the book. I found The Spy and the Traitor to be Ben Macintyre’s finest work. If, like me, you own all his books, have read most of them, plus much of his newspaper writing, understand this to be the highest praise. Macintyre is one of the three finest contemporary military historians working, in my opinion. With this project he took a riveting, complex, important slice of Cold War history and wove it into a book as exciting as the best thriller novels. Using cliche expressions such as “I couldn’t put it down” and “the pages seemed to turn on their own” come to mind. They’re accurate.

Oleg Gordievsky is one of the legendary spies of all time, certainly the kingpin of spies in the Cold War era. If there was a vote it wouldn’t be close. Gordievsky’s father was KGB; Gordiesky’s wife was second generation KGB. Oleg grew up worshipping Soviet ideals and went into the KGB, rising in the ranks. He was unusually intelligent, handled himself well, and was destined for great things in the Soviet intelligence world.

So how did he end up the most valuable spy MI6 has ever had in the Russian KGB, passing on superb intelligence for a decade?

Early in his career, exposure to Western European society swiftly changed Gordievsky’s thinking about communism, the Soviet state, and everything burned into his brain his entire life. After a couple of bungled attempts to get the attention of MI6, once the connection was made the information pipeline opened. 

To say he lived a dangerous life is an understatement. Macintyre effectively presents the tension Gordievsky lived with, overlays it with his career, wrapped in an informative narrative that plays like a novel, or a great movie. Some of the most dramatic moments of the Cold War took place while Gordievsky was front and center. Reading The Spy and the Traitor, I found myself amazed these are true tales from the front lines of the Cold War. 

In interviews for the book, Macintyre discusses how fortunate he is to have been able to interview virtually every case officer or agent involved with Gordievsky during his career. They are all alive and made themselves available to him. Of course I’m not giving anything away telling you Oleg is alive and well, living in hidden seclusion. Macintyre spent countless hours talking with him, as well. What a priceless opportunity for a historian.

Macintyre’s work putting together the challenging (understatement), precarious tale of how Gordievsky was brought in from Russia is unbelievable. But it’s true. If I saw this plot in a movie I’d laugh at how implausible it is. But it’s all true, and how Macintyre weaves everyone’s stories together is masterful.

The Spy and the Traitor is a spellbinding work bringing to life a critical period in modern spy and espionage history. All manner of names and characters prominent in English, Russian and American spy history come to life during Gordievsky’s career, including Aldrich Ames. I cannot attempt to give a skim re-telling of the story contained within this book. Anyone with more than a passing interest in the Cold War must read The Spy and the Traitor.

@benmacintyre1, #spyandthetraitor, CrownPublishing, #oleggordievsky

Tuesday
Oct232018

Firefly by Henry Porter

Somehow I found myself not having read any of Henry Porter’s books, not even being more than slightly aware of his writing career, when Firefly was announced and The Mysterious Press was kind enough to send me a review copy. Am I happy they did so - now I have an entire published backlog to search out and buy! Turns out Porter is a well-known spy/thriller author in England, this is his seventh novel, and I’m playing catch-up.

is wonderful initial exposure to this talented writer’s work. Simply put, Firefly is the MI6 codename for a young teenage boy from Syria who cleverly secured intelligence of an ISIS terror cell, including details of their plans. For a variety of reasons, foremost of which is getting his family out of harm’s way, this free-thinking kid has determined that getting to Germany, from a refugee camp in Greece, is what he needs to do. There, somehow, he anticipates being able to send for his family and use the quantity of intelligence he’s stolen for the best purposes. His intent is good, his mission appears impossible, but he’s smart and determined.

The journey is grim, taking Firefly across vast swatches of land and mountains. ISIS is well aware of his theft and are on his trail, though they aren’t initially certain just who they’re tracking. The kid knows he’s pursued, so of course is cautious in his travel and contacts.

MI6 at a point becomes fully aware of Firefly, they get a good feel for what he may know, and determine they have to find him first, make him safe, and take possession of his intelligence. Luc Samson is enlisted to somehow find out just who he is pursuing, convince him he is from the “good guys”, and get Firely out of harm’s way. Samson has Lebanese heritage, grew up in a civil war, is fluent in Arabic, and notably fits the bill for the job he reluctantly takes on.

Firefly is so much more than a simple chase across a war-torn continent. Author Porter masterfully builds tension as the story arcs through refugee camps, border crossings, and a myriad of personalities brought vividly alive on the page. Samson proves to be quite an unorthodox MI6 operative, but in the end is the ideal combination of talents and attitude. Firefly himself is a delightful, complex and well-drawn character. He and his life and the world he knows are foreign to most of us fortunate enough to be able to buy and read this book.

Henry Porter built a superb intelligence / spy story into the contemporary world of refugee camps, fluid borders, mass migration and an unstable world. Firefly is a smooth, fast-moving read full of contrast, anticipation and a satisfying climax. I highly recommend it. Now to locate Porter’s earlier six novels!

@MysteriousPress, #firefly, #henryporter, @HenryCPorter

Tuesday
Oct232018

The Company: A Novel of the CIA by Robert Littell

Published in 2002, The Company reads as if it was lifted from last week’s news. Littell’s doorstop of a novel is one of the fine contemporary spy tales. Littlell effectively uses each of his 894 pages, presenting a generational espionage thriller, disguised as a novel. It somehow managed to follow me all over the house. The Company is one of those books worth dipping into when only five minutes are to be found. When I find myself reading a book while brushing my teeth, I know I’m well into a great read - that happened more than once with this one.

The Company proved to be much more than “a novel of the CIA.” It’s the history of modern-day American espionage, beginning in World War II, finishing in the mid-1990s. The post-war operators, spies and agents who came of age in the war, then led the intelligence services through the Cold War, see their rise, reach their professional summits, then fade into the sunset in this grand story. Time and circumstances overcome them. The players change, but the biggest issues don’t go away, nor seem to get solved. Generational though it is, readers become well aware of how the intelligence agencies stick to the tried-and-true “communism bad, we must stop it” dictate. 

I found myself deeply immersed in all elements of the story. From the beginnings of the Cold War, through the Bay of Pigs, the Berlin Airlift and the Berlin Wall, Vietnam, Kennedy, Nixon, LBJ; The Company is pleasantly paced, detailed to an extreme, bringing places and people alive on the page in memorable fashion, yet never bogging down. Somehow Littell maintains a descriptive narrative for nearly a thousand pages, and decades of event-filled years, and I never lost interest. When’s the last time you spent days reading a book so heavy it was difficult to lie down in bed with it, but you stuck to it ‘cause it was so damn good? I did, and The Company paid me back. Little must have been tempted to cut copy just for the sake of the page count. I’m thankful he didn’t.

This is superior storytelling, stacked with memorable historical characters earning their keep. One example: James Jesus Angleton, longtime Director of the CIA. Angleton is one of the shadowy, legendary figures in American intelligence history, and he cuts a wide swatch through this book. In his quiet way he’s a larger-then-life character. Like several others in CIA history, he continually pops up, just when you think he may be out of the picture. I can smell his cigarettes, taste his drinks, and feel the darkness in his office, thanks to Littell’s work with words. 

I am not going to rehash plot-lines from The Company, as it encompasses decades of CIA history. You should dive into this amazing history, forget it was written 18 years ago, and amaze yourself connecting the dots to events then and now. It’s easy for me to say, even after many years of reading spy and espionage fiction and non-fiction, The Company is one of the finest spy novels I’ve read. I’m so smitten with the book I went on the secondary market and bought a signed First Edition for my library.

Penguin Books, 2003