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Red War - Kyle Mills

Dark Sacred Night - Michael Connelly

The Spy and the Traitor by Ben Macintyre

Mycroft and Sherlock by Abdul-Jabbar and Waterhouse

Holy Ghost - John Sandford

Past Tense - Lee Child

In A House of Lies by Ian Rankin

The Killer Collective by Barry Eisler

Daughter of War by Brad Taylor

Sherlock Holmes Is Like edited by Christopher Redmond

Beside the Syrian Sea by James Wolff

The Night Agent by Matthew Quirk

The New Iberia Blues by James Lee Burke

Podcast Favorites

   In this episode of the entertraining Books of the Year podcast, Simon Mayo and Matt Williams ask Lee Child about his legendary coffee consumption, at my request. 

@booksoftheyear, @simonmayo

I'll listen to Layne Norton discuss and argue passionately about nutrition any day. Mark Bell does a great job moderating an engaging conversation between Norton and Shawn Baker about health, fitness, food and nutrition. Science wins! @marksmellybell, @BioLane

Shane Whaley and David Craggs talk spy and espionage fiction, writing, politics and books with the outspoken, brilliant writer, Charles Cumming.

@Spybrary, @CharlesCumming

Malcolm Gladwell digs deep into the one song Elvis Presley couldn't consistently sing, "Are You Lonesome Tonight?" This episode is a gripping, utterly fascinating discussion of how Elvis recorded, sang live, and interpreted his life through music. @Gladwell


The New Iberia Blues by James Lee Burke

Disclaimer:  I’ve been reading and loving Burke’s novels for decades. I’m entirely biased about the enduring nature and terribly high quality of his work, so proceed knowing out the gate I loved The New Iberia Blues.

Dave Robicheaux is a sheriff's detective in the New Orleans area. He’s been on the job for years, enduring personal and professional loss, attempting to sort good from evil. At times the specter of his service in Vietnam haunts him. His close friend Clete Purcell, now a private detective, sometimes makes Robicheaux crazy with his reckless behavior. On the other hand, when a threat to his daughter Alafair looms, there’s nobody else he’d want by his side than Purcell. His life is complex, and much of it plays out in his head.

The New Iberia Blues is a complex tale about sad lives in New Orleans, mixed with the strange world of Hollywood and motion pictures. Ambition, greed, false fronts, and a series of bizarre murders (one a crucifixion) are part of a slow series of tragic events coming together. Dave Robicheaux treads the narrow line balancing between good and evil. He's always learning about people, he has few illusions, using his daughter Alifair as a compass, at times. 

The New Iberia Blues is compelling and exciting, though quite different from traditional detective stories. Burke is a master of pace, of slowly building tension, of using reflection in his characters to ask and answer questions I assume he wrestles with himself. Old and current New Orleans plays as big a role in this tale as individuals do. 

If James Lee Burke isn’t one of the finest living American novelists, find me the writer who is. The New Iberia Blues stands with the best of his work.


@SimonBooks, @JamesLeeBurke



Mycroft and Sherlock by Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Anna Waterhouse

In this second Sherlock Holmes novel co-authored by Abdul Jabbar and Waterhouse, a teenage Holmes finds himself at odds with his older brother Mycroft. Holmes is discovering his immense curiosity about the world when Mycroft and Sherlock opens, leading others to think of him as distracted, aloof or uncomprehending. Elder brother Mycroft is his guardian, attempting to keep Holmes in school and desperately hoping he ends up somewhere useful in life. They spar with each other often, and keep secrets as a matter of course.


An unsolved batch of grisly murders in London sparks keen interest by Holmes, though he has no official role to play in the investigation. Mycroft, to his mind, wiser, takes his position at the War Office seriously and tends to ignore young Sherlock’s questions and interests in matters outside of school. He frankly has little interest in the murders.

Cyrus Douglas, close friend of Mycroft, begins to experience struggles in his business. Sherlock is called upon to assist, partly an effort on Mycroft's part to give his younger brother something constructive to do. Talents hidden even from Holmes himself come to the fore in this endeavor, naturally proving handy later on.

How all these threads tug on each other, resulting in each of these individuals playing a major investigative role in solving the murders, is an interesting journey. I enjoyed the detail and pace of two storylines inexorably coming together. Sherlock Holmes begins to grow up as pages turn. Mycroft has his ego taken down a peg and opens himself up to a stronger relationship with his younger brother. Cyrus proves himself to be a true friend and valuable citizen, even in the face of day-to-day 1872 London racism. 

Mycroft and Sherlock is a worthy story bringing the two Holmes brothers together. It’s time to stop comparisons with Arthur Conan Doyle. Abdul-Jabbar and Waterhouse stand on their own, carrying on the proud Sherlock Holmes tradition. 


@TitanBooks, @kaj33, #mycroftandsherlock



The Break Line by James Brabazon

From the ominous shadowy figure gracing the cover of The Break Line, then the opening paragraphs grabbing me, I knew to hold tight and pay attention. It was clear James Brabazon’s first novel had me planted. Lee Child isn’t kidding with his cover blurb “…don’t plan to sleep tonight.”

Max McLean, assassin, draws his paycheck from British Intelligence. His work against terrorists made him legendary in intelligence and assassin circles. When he’s called in and briefed about a mission to Sierra Leone, McLean realizes how little is known about the situation he’s heading into. Rebels are raising havoc throughout the country. Chaos and killing seem to be the only guidelines.

However, British Intelligence has run into a stone wall in their efforts to get a grip on the situation. Civilians are being murdered wholesale; small towns and villages are being wiped clean. Nobody knows who's behind the killing, much less why. Determining how these wholesale murders are connected to the rebel uprising, if they are, is part of McLean’s mission. Adding to his doubts, McLean learns he’s the second operative sent into rebel territory. First was one of his closest friends, an operator who barely survived, returning a mysterious shell of himself.

Lots happens in The Break Line. More than Max McLean counted on, more than I anticipated. Action, intrigue, an abundance of covert operations, and some damn big surprises. James Brabazon impressed me with this novel. His storyline is original with tangible mounting tension throughout. McLean proves to be a memorable character rising above the chaos and violence.

Toss covert operations with military thrillers, add a garnish of fantasy, and you have The Break Line. Hang on for some unanticipated surprises.


@BerkleyPub, @James_Brabazon, #thebreakline



Daughter of War by Brad Taylor

Brad Taylor is an accomplished military-ops-thriller author. His Pike Logan series is popular, and more realistic than other military-themed adventures. This is all a long way to say I enjoy Taylor’s books. Primary character Logan reads like a human, rather than an invincible killing machine. 

Daughter Of War, Taylor’s latest venture, fully captured me. I’ll call this the best Pike Logan adventure yet.

Logan and his partner Jennifer find themselves unraveling a dangerous, complex plan by North Korea to smuggle a rare essential and lethal substance to the Syrians, in Daughter of War. Used against both Kurd and American armed forces, the Syrians getting their hands on it would dangerously change the balance of power in the world. Further complicating matters, the North Koreans involved themselves in a complex double cross with the Syrians. It's a mess.

 Taylor writes patiently, letting storylines develop, as Logan and allies grapple with stray leads and knowledge, dots they’re attempting to connect. 

The plots in Daughter of War, involving a young refugee, unknowingly in possession of data central to everything, connected with me. Logan initially doesn’t want to interact with her, but eventually grasps her role. Gaining her trust is a tough first step, against a cascade of bad odds. The scene when Logan comes to grips with how badly he wants to protect this girl is powerfully written. 

Daughter of War is a complex action tale laden with spy tradecraft. I’m impressed with how Taylor weaves this new level of intrigue, and some unusual geography, into the story while maintaining the level of action and excitement he does. More spy-themed intrigue and activity in this story adds depth and interest. It’s nice to see his writing skills take on a new edge as his mainstay character, Pike Logan, ages and evolves himself. 


@DuttonBooks, @bradtaylorbooks, #daughterofwar



Spy Fiction Catch-Up

Barry Eisler takes some chances in The Killer Collective. Bringing together his longtime protagonist John Rain and Livia Lone, a more recent heroine, seems a bit of a gamble. Rain has been the common thread through Eisler’s most acclaimed novels, while Lone not only is a recent introduction, but as a personality, worlds different from the cool, calm Rain. Adding to the wild mix is Mossad agent Delilah, ex-lover of Rain, and in the wild card role, ex-Marine sniper Dox. 

Bringing Dox and Lone to the party is similar to dumping gasoline on a fire. Personality clashes are guaranteed, and how none of them killed each other is a testament to Eisler’s skill as a writer. At the core of The Killer Collective is the teaming-up of this disparate group to investigate a child pornography ring, the extent of which is only initially hinted at. I found the first half of the book more exciting than the resolution, as the “team” slowly assembles, personalities mesh and common goals take priority. The Killer Collective is a fine book, with a goof plot and some uncanny dialogue. Taking more time putting Rain and Lone together, perhaps an entire book accomplishing that, would have been satisfying. 

The Killer Collective is fast-paced and exciting. 

@AmazonPub, @BarryEisler, #killercollective

James Wolff brings vivid writing skills to bear in Beside The Syrian Sea. He unwinds a timeless, relatively simple plot, developing a nuanced, complex spy tale. Wolff directs the story clearly even as a labyrinth of developments befall his protagonist Jonas, a quiet civil servant in British Intelligence.

From page one I knew I was in the hands of a writer in command of language and his topic. I could feel the grit of sand, heat and humidity, and the stress and confusion inside Jonas. His father has been kidnapped by ISIS, he’s resolute in his determination to find and rescue him, but damn, he’s out of his depth. 

Spy and espionage tradecraft, as well as clashing cultures, resonate on each page of Beside The Syrian Sea. Initially I bogged down, but continuing on, my appreciation for the complexities of Jonas’ situation and the world he was suddenly inhabiting grew. Readers willing to work a little will uncover significant rewards in Wolff’s debut novel.

@bitterlemonpub, #jameswolff, #besidethesyriansea

Often, calling a novel a “page turner” is said with a snarky tone. When I use the phrase describing Matthew Quirk’s The Night Agent, it’s all praise. From page one to the end, I was gripped by FBI agent Peter Sutherland’s life, work and situation. 

The son of a man suspected of being a Russian agent, a traitor, he’s worked triply hard to carve out a career in the FBI. His life and career are going ok, he’s made it to the night desk assignment in the White House, but Sutherland considers himself stalled. Whether anyone will admit it out loud or not, the legacy of his father shadows everything in his life, relationships and work. 

Then one night the special phone on his desk rings. Nothing is the same after that moment. Nothing. Events move quickly, shadows are everywhere, and bad actors are behind every closed door. In his effort to untangle a longtime conspiracy with a Russian mole at the highest level of the U.S. government, Agent Sutherland must swiftly make decisions with earth shattering consequences.

The Night Agent is a superb thriller, featuring spies and tradecraft and well-developed characters riding a complex plot. This is another of those books following me around the house.

@WmMorrowBooks, #thenightagent, @mquirk


Joseph Kanon’s The Defectors was published in 2017. It has been sitting on a shelf waiting for my attention, but not until my friend Jason King’s praise for the book prompted me to open the covers did I realize how damn fine a novel this is.

The Defectors tells a simple story, really. Frank Weeks, a biggie in the 1949 version of the CIA (he’d been in military intelligence during the war), defects to the Russians in 1949. It’s an immense coup for the communists and a sharp blow for the Allies. 

A dozen years later, retired for all intents and purposes by the KGB, living in Moscow with his wife, enjoying a certain type of celebrity, he’s writing his memoirs (with Kremlin permission). Asking his brother Simon, who’s in the publishing business in New York, to come to Moscow and help him write and edit the book seems a simple and complex thing all at the same time. Nobody from the west has had contact with Frank these twelve years - no family, no friends. 

Simon flies to Moscow, the brothers reunite in a sense, and the book project begins. Slowly, the world Simon thought he was getting into reveals itself as something else. Few are who they seem, beginning with brother Frank, even including his KGB minder Boris. 

The Defectors is complicated and yet clear. Kanon weaves sublime shadings and clever dialogue into a brilliant story of love, family, treason, and greed. This is a true spy tale, containing each necessary element, written superbly.

@AtriaBooks, @JosephKanon, #thedefectors