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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



The Word Is Murder by Anthony Horowitz

The Word Is Murder brilliantly pulls off a dangerous concept. Initially I was puzzled and a bit put off by Horowitz inserting himself into this murder mystery as a principal character, side by side with police detective Daniel Hawthorne. He is telling the story, as himself. Horowitz sets himself up as a journalist in an unlikely pairing with the seemingly disgraced, difficult ex-police detective, called in to assist the local law enforcement in a puzzling murder investigation. 

The particulars of the actual story hold less interest for me than how real author Horowitz put this together. He in effect becomes a Dr. Watson-inspired principal in the narrative, taking notes and recording witness interviews as background for the book on the case Hawthorne has convinced him to write. At the same time, fictional Horowitz doesn’t like Hawthorne, considers him a bit of a bumbler, and merely someone to be used to possibly shape this book project. 

The further I got into the pages, the greater my enjoyment of The Word Is Murder. Set up as a classic British mystery, with nods to Agatha Christie and Conan Doyle and even Columbo, the fictional Horowitz experiences several unexpected life lessons, the plot of course tangles ‘round and ‘round, until we arrive together at a most satisfying and exciting conclusion. 

I closed the covers to The Word Is Murder wholly satisfied with an excellent murder mystery, well done in classic style with unexpected twists. 


@harperbooks, #thewordismurder, @AnthonyHorowitz



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



Short Takes on New Thrillers


The Last Stand by Mickey Spillane

Mickey Spillane would be 100 years old this month! I grew up seeing his pulpy novels in my parent’s basement, and in my lifetime have enjoyed reading many over the years. Spillane was a larger-than-life character.

The Last Stand is the novel Spillane was working on when he died in 2006. Only now can The Last Stand be read and enjoyed. A bonus addition to this volume is the also previously-unpublished novella A Bullet For Satisfaction, written early in Spillane’s career. Max Allan Collins, the fine writer who has done much to keep Spillane’s work alive, adds a lively introduction revealing how these two manuscripts were found.

@HardCaseCrime, @MaxAllenCollins, #mickeyspillane

  Closer Than You Know by Brad Parks

Brad Parks writes the sort of psychological thrillers typically I'm not attracted to. However, I got into and enjoyed Closer Than You Know.  This novel takes place in the world of social services, inadequate child protective policies, and mis-treated children. Author Parks creates deeply emotional issues and often helpless characters who demand a great deal from readers. Happily (for all of us), Parks also has a strong protagonist in the person of Melanie Barrick. Her adventures and struggles fuel Closer Than You Know, a legal thriller that kept me thinking and reading and turning pages.

@DuttonBooks, @Brad_Parks, #closerthanyouknow


Beautiful Music by Michael Zadoorian

I’m from Michigan, grew up in the late ‘60s and the ‘70s as immersed in the world of rock’n’roll as possible. I published a fanzine, wrote reviews as a freelancer, then in the late ‘70s moved to Detroit to work full-time editing and writing for a magazine about popular music publishing and record collecting.

Beautiful Music pushes all my buttons - Detroit, 1970s, the MC5, Iggy Pop. I was rushing to read the book before I knew a thing about author Zadoorian, another Michigan native. Set in Detroit in the early 1970s, a few years after the riots of 1967, a young Danny Yzemski has a startlingly poor home life, school is tough, and he's eternally confused. Danny begins to find salvation through music, even as his life and family goes downhill. 

Beautiful Music reads like rock’n’roll music, and affected me deeply. Zadoorian writes a mean lyric disguised as a wonderful, emotive sentence. at the same time, Yzemski discovers how rock’n’roll music can lift one’s soul.

@AkashicBooks, @zadoorian, #beautifulmusic


The Word Is Murder by Anthony Horowitz

Horowitz seemingly can write anything. Tell him to bring James Bond to life on the page - he does. How about the world of Sherlock Holmes - why not? In The Word Is Murder Horowitz clearly allowed his deep imagination to run wild, with interesting, amazing results.

Very much like Sherlock Holmes, Daniel Hawthorne is a smart, disgraced, police detective with less than optimal bedside manner. Author Horowitz is the Dr. Watson-like partner to Hawthorne, journaling about his cases.

The Word Is Murder becomes complex, intriguing, and just when I thought a narrative was unfolding in a manner I could follow, a blind turn appeared. Allow yourself to flow with the twists and turns and enjoy Horowitz’ mastery of the printed word. 

@HarperBooks, @AnthonyHorowitz, #thewordismurder



Time To Get Serious

I read and enjoy a hell of a lot of spy and espionage and thriller and mystery fiction, but these three new arrivals, waiting to be read and reviewed, are going to demand a great deal of serioius attention. I'm up for the challenge!

@GUPress, @HMHCo, @McFaul, @WWNorton, #rolandphilips, #aspynamedorphan, #donaldmaclean


Twisted Prey by John Sandford

If anyone thought the previous 27 Prey novels drained the remaining fresh plots from John Sandford’s brain, they were wrong. Twisted Prey, just published, stands with the best of his Lucas Davenport adventures.

When an old foe appears to be a major player in the assassination attempt of a Senator, and Lucas Davenport is called in to dig for a less-then-obvious truth, he encounters unexpected depths of duplicity. Now a U.S. Marshal, Davenport finds the streets of Washington, D.C. more dangerous than anticipated. Each time the case begins to take shape, suspects kill each other. Attempts are made on his life, but when Weather, Lucas’ wife, is targeted, the gloves come off.

This is the point in Prey novels when my reading slows down, enjoyment skyrockets, and author Sandford hits his stride.

Reading Twisted Prey, I know answers to the questions Davenport and other law enforcement agencies are struggling with. Sandford is a master at keeping me one step ahead and fascinated with how  Lucas and his team develop and follow-up leads. 

Lucas Davenport is always an interesting character. He’s relentlessly dangerous when necessary, smart, in love with his wife and kid, a bit of a clothes-horse, but Sandford writes him as a real human with many flaws. This primary character in all the Prey adventures works hard to solve the puzzles, he gets hurt, he feels pain and suffers through defeats.

Prey novels always satisfy. These are exciting, thoughtful police thrillers, always building tension, with an interesting cast of supporting players. Author Sandford is a casual master of characterization. He brings everyone alive for the motion picture in my brain, without writing straightforward descriptions. A couple of Davenport’s old friends make small appearances in Twisted Prey, but primarily he finds himself working with a variety of people and organizations. 

Having read every Prey novel but one (which I recently found and bought), Twisted Prey ranks with any other book in the series.

@PutnamBooks, @J_Sandford, #twistedprey