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The Border - Don Winslow

Metropolis - Philip Kerr

The Paris Diversion - Chris Pavone

The Network - Jason Elliott

Our Man Down In Havana - Christopher Hull

Mission To Paris - Alan Furst

A Dangerous Man - Robert Crais

Resurrections - Jeffrey Meyers

Spy Games - Adam Brookes

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 Word Is Murder by Anthony Horowitz | Main | Short Takes on New Thrillers »

A Spy Named Orphan: The Enigma of Donald Maclean by Roland Philipps

Donald Maclean was one of the Cambridge Five espionage ring, successfully moving untold thousands of files and bits of information to the Soviet Union from inside the English Foreign Office, for decades. Then, in 1951, the Cold War in full swing, he mysteriously disappeared just ahead of exposure by MI5, surfacing years later in Moscow. His spy life has been the topic of guesswork and fill-in-the-blanks since. A Spy Named Orphan pulls together the entire story.

Author Roland Philipps has spent years researching Maclean, filling in the blanks, reading journals, correspondence and anything else he can get his hands on. A Spy Named Orphan is meticulously researched, as the pages of footnotes indexed at the back of the book attest. The sheer volume of work needed to put the professional and personal life of Maclean together is impressive, as this guy seemingly was the ideal spy and for so long left no trail.

A Spy Named Orphan kept me reading; the cast of characters in Maclean’s life is fascinating. His years working for the British and Soviet governments are important to modern history. At times the revelations he provided to Moscow possibly altered significant events. How Maclean kept his professional life together in the face of his truly out-of-control alcoholism is a testament to how upbringing and station played a role in the UK government. Of course, hindsight is easy and Maclean’s life seems from another age.

A Spy Named Orphan sheds light on The Cambridge Five, and the important role communism played in the intellectual ranks in the 1920s and ‘30s. Maclean’s story goes hand-in-hand with the growth of the Foreign Office and MI5 and the Cold War and the world of espionage in general. All of this is fascinating, and the timeline of his career hit my interest mark.

However, I found A Spy Named Orphan far less interesting than I expected it to be. This is a big book, but Maclean never came alive for me. Nobody in the Cambridge Five do, nor Maclean’s wife or many other friends. Maclean was a practicing alcoholic; I wanted to feel his hangovers at the office. His marriage was up and down and periodically brutal and awful; I felt no pain. Near the end of his years as a spy he knew MI5 and the FBI were closing in on him. How was that to live with? I wanted to feel his tension. But none of this came across to me. Interspersing hundreds, if not thousands, of fragmented quotes into the text kept the story from developing, for me. I found the style distracting and tedious.

Yes, this is non-fiction, but reading A Spy Named Orphan felt like too much work to me. I appreciate the wealth of information and how Philipps put a story together nobody else has successfully done, but I want some personality and feeling of immersion.

@wwnorton, #donaldmaclean


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