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Posts Tagged ‘spies’

A Review of Coercion

Posted by Scott Holstad on August 26, 2016

CoercionCoercion by Tim Tigner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Coercion is a very good spy/thriller set in 1990 during the Gorbachev/Perestroika Russian years. “Knyaz” is a super secret organization within the KGB that wants to gain control by ridding the country of Gorbachev and giving Russia its own version of Perestroika. With Vasily Karpov, a KGB General, as its primary leader (and his son, Victor, as another), Knyaz gains control over those who can help them attain their goal. They infiltrate American industry to gain advantages over it and surpass it in international economic competition. After all, this is where the new wars are being fought.

And this is where the Knyaz secret weapon comes in – the Peitho Pill. When injected into someone’s body (typically, the buttocks), the Peitho Pill is harmless by itself, but it can be remotely triggered, causing it to release its poison and instantly kill the target. People can live for years with this time-bomb implanted, leaving their loved ones living under total control of Knyaz. They know that if they do not do as they are told, their loved one will die. Corporate sabotage and industrial espionage are the standard for the relatives of those implanted with the Peitho Pill. It’s all about complete control and it’s disconcerting for everyone. It’s truly one of the more original and evil weapons I’ve come across in all of my years of reading thriller novels.

Alex and Frank Ferris are brothers, actually twins. Alex, the book’s protagonist, is a former US intelligence “agent” (aka spook) and Green Beret. Frank is a genius-level scientist who is working on a specific airplane engine that keeps being sabotaged. When Frank apparently commits suicide, Alex starts investigating his brother’s death. It doesn’t seem quite “right,” somehow. His investigations take him on a trip around the world to Siberia where he becomes very quickly acquainted with the Peitho Pill and Knyaz. Also, while in the US, we meet Karpov’s son, Victor, a man we quickly learn to love to hate. Turns out Alex has known Victor for a long while, but under an assumed American name. Victor is definitely not what and who he appears to be. But then, few are in this novel.

Most of the action takes place in Siberia and, let me tell you, the action is hot, even though the weather might be cold! Alex may have BEEN a Green Beret, but he apparently hasn’t lost his skills and his Knyaz “friends” have badly underestimated him. Alex will come face to face with Karpov, but Alex has an ace up his sleeve, and it’s a big one.

Some complaints though. First of all, I found the book slightly confusing at first and a little hard to get into. It took me awhile to just get into the book. However, after I basically forced myself to read through the first several chapters, it picked up and at that point, I couldn’t put the book down. It was that good. It was fast paced, was full of intrigue and tension, and had a lot of action. Another complaint, however, is that Alex seems to benefit from a lot of, well, good luck, excluding his torture scene by Karpov. He’s saved in the plane, he kills the Knyaz assassin pretty handily, he meets the one woman in town who is connected to Frank’s death and is also connected to Karpov, whom Alex ultimately is looking for. He gets into the right places pretty easily. Things seem to come to him so easily. Maybe that’s what happens when you’re an ex-spook, I don’t know. It just seemed really convenient and just a little contrived. However, the story was so good, I was willing to overlook all of these perceived flaws.

Coercion is a very good spy/thriller. I enjoyed it very much. What’s keeping it from being a five star book? Well, I guess it’s the aforementioned too many coincidences that tend to distract from rather than enhance the story. Also, the beginning of the novel could have been improved upon. Better editing, suggesting a fresher rewrite of the first few chapters, perhaps? Alex is a really good character. I kept thinking Jason Bourne. Not Bond, Bourne. I liked him. I’d like to read more books with him, but at the same time, I’m not sure making a series featuring him is a great idea. Too many authors are creating series’ these days featuring great characters and are having to make up impossible scenarios that don’t seem remotely realistic. I don’t want to see that happen to this character (not that this seemed realistic). All in all, four strong stars and definitely recommended.

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A Review of Spy Hook

Posted by Scott Holstad on July 1, 2015

Spy Hook (Bernard Samson, #4)Spy Hook by Len Deighton

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

THIS BOOK IS A FRAUD! THIS BOOK IS A JOKE! THIS BOOK IS AN OUTRAGE! Whew. Okay. Breathe.

This was my first Len Deighton book after having heard about him for years. I knew he wrote spy books. I thought they might be like MaClean or Forsyth books. I was dead wrong. This wasn’t a spy book. It was a mystery, and not a very good one. Additionally, this was the fourth book in what very well might be a nine book series, and it’s not much of a stand alone novel, so that hurts it.

In this book, Bernard Sampson is a “spy” working for the “Service” who has a buddy who has moved to America who confides in him that there are some funds no one knows about in the Service that are missing and wonders if Sampson’s wife, who has defected to the KGB, has something to do with it. Days later, Sampson is told this man has been murdered, which turns out to be false. Sampson’s curiosity is piqued, so he asks a few questions and before you know it, everyone he talks to is telling him to shut the F*** up and mind his own damn business, even old, trusted friends he’s known for years. He’s even sent out to L.A. where he’s to be given instructions, is picked up at LAX, driven to a compound and is reunited with an old friend he thought was dead, but is obviously not. This guy gives him the same line. On the way back to the airport, the CIA picks him up and gives him the same line. What the hell is going on? He goes to visit an old family friend in the English countryside who tells him the same thing and who makes him promise not to go visit his new hot girlfriend’s unstable uncle, which he immediately does, and who tries to kill him. He’s saved by a friend. He goes to the director of the Service and spills all, thinking this will solve things. He’s then sent to Berlin, where, as he and a friend are getting off the plane, he spots MPs waiting — for him. The director has set him up. His friend claims to be him and is dragged off so he can escape and he goes to East Germany, returns, goes to an old Service friend’s house, confronts him about the money, his wife, his friend, everything, is given some money and sent on his way and leaves. End of story. AND THAT’S IT!!! NO QUESTIONS ANSWERED. NO RESOLUTION. NOT EVEN ANY REAL ACTION. WTF??? What kind of spy story is this? This is pathetic. And Deighton has this annoying manner of presenting his characters as clowns, jokes, with sad attempts at humor. It’s bad writing. And Sampson is grouchy and a real asshole to everyone he meets, except his 22 year old girlfriend, whom he adores. I mean, you can’t like this guy. I was rooting for him to get shot. Nothing happens in this book and I read this criticism on a lot of reviews, apparently because the author uses this book to set up the next book in the series. But I’ll be damned if I’m supposed to buy a book just to buy another! That sucks! That’s marketing, not authorship. The irony is, I did buy the sequel when I bought this and I started reading it immediately to find out what the hell happens to this jerk, but if I don’t get some resolution out of this book, I’m writing this author off permanently and burning both books. I already hate the guy. What a schmuck. Definitely not recommended — at all. Under any circumstance.

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A Review of A Spy at Twilight

Posted by Scott Holstad on February 15, 2015

A Spy at TwilightA Spy at Twilight by Bryan Forbes

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

There is little doubt that with the thriller, A Spy at Twilight, Bryan Forbes is trying to become a contemporary of Forsyth. Sadly, he fails. See, the secret to Forsyth’s success is his enormous dedication to research, details, and planning, as well as intricate story telling. Forbes shares none of these traits. He spins a decent yarn, yes, but not nearly as well as Forsyth.

In this book, a booby trapped corpse explodes when investigated by a couple of British cops, killing both, and setting off a massive investigation. England is “ruled” by a socialist prime minister who it’s hard to pin down and I attribute that to the author — the prime minister is clearly influenced by the head of the secret service — MI6 — who in this novel is called “Control,” which just seems so wrong. What seems even more wrong is the hero of all of the James Bond novels and countless Forsyth novels, “Control” is a Russian plant working to overthrow Britain for Russian rule. That’s literally unthinkable to me. And he seems, at times, to have the prime minister working alongside him, and at other times, the prime minister doesn’t seem to have a clue about what’s going on. It’s very confusing.

Another part of the plot involves a former British spy, Hillsden, who has defected to the Russians, who was forced to by the prime minister and Control and who now, just to survive, works for the GRU. And he’s bitter. He writes his memoirs and attempts to get them back to a colleague in Britain, but it only leads to various deaths.

Meanwhile, the protagonist, Waddington, is a former MI6 spy, now working for a security company who has been seduced by a mysterious rich hottie who is working for Control, although he of course doesn’t know it. And to my total shock, the author kills him off about 80% of the way through the book. So now what? Well, there are secondary characters who now take over, but it’s very confusing. You expect to make it through the whole book with the protagonist, don’t you? Generally? Perhaps it’s post-modern…. I didn’t like it though.

Another thing I didn’t like was small details like the following: the author several times referred to revolver “magazines.” Um, revolvers don’t have magazines. I know. I have one. I also have semiautomatic handguns. Those do have magazines. Get it right. The author is also extremely obsessed with AIDS. Now I know this book was published in the middle of the AIDS epidemic in 1989, so I can empathize, but come on. We get it. We are So.Very.Happy.You.Did.Not.Get.AIDS. God, go on and on about it, dude! Additionally, the terrorist known as “The Fat Boy” is not fat. He forces some type of cyanide pill down the throat of the woman who has seduced Waddington by kissing her, which seems a little unlikely. And Keating seems to good to be true, as spy turned movie producer turned good guy.

This isn’t really a bad book. It’s just not really a good one either. It could have done with some polishing, a little rewriting, some editing, some adjustments. That would have upped my rating to four stars. As it is, it’s three stars and uneasily recommended if you can’t find any other thrillers to read.

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A Review of The Silent Man

Posted by Scott Holstad on November 17, 2014

The Silent Man (John Wells, #3)The Silent Man by Alex Berenson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is another good book in the John Wells series by Alex Berenson. It’s the third book. In the first two, CIA agent John Wells has pretty much saved the world, or at least the US, so it’s hard to imagine the author being able to concoct another plot that would live up to the first two. But he does. The book opens with a Russian scientist at a nuclear facility who is pressured into helping to improbably steal two nuclear bombs for Muslim militants. They intend to detonate the bombs in Washington during the State of the Union address. The story of these militants and their travels with the bombs to North America is very interesting.

Meanwhile, one morning Wells and his fiance, Jennifer Exley, are on their way to work at the CIA when they are attacked by Russian assassins who are killed after killing some CIA agents and severely wounding Exley. In the previous book, Wells had seriously humiliated a powerful arms dealer who has, in turn, contracted with some Russians to get his revenge. Needless to say, after this attack, Wells is ticked. This doesn’t bode well for the arms dealer. Wells flies to Russia to get at and kill the Russians behind the attack and does kill three of them, but has to fly out of the country as he is pursued by the KGB. The arms dealer is so frightened of a pissed off Wells coming for him, that he offers a truce — information in exchange for letting him live. Wells agrees when he hears the information. It’s about the nuclear bomb theft and all hell breaks loose after that. It’s a great race to the finish and the finish is almost anticlimactic, but it’s still satisfying, in my opinion.

However, one of my complaints about the book is Exley’s very minor role. She’s John’s fiance and we barely see or hear anything from her. She’s an afterthought. Additionally, in the first book, a lot was made of Wells and his conversion to Islam, but that’s almost never broached in this book. I found that strange. Still, it was a good book, an exciting read, and the author has this unique knack of taking implausible sounding scenarios and making them seem entirely realistic. The only other thriller author I’ve read who does it that well is Forsyth. That’s high praise, coming from me. I’d read these books in order, if possible, but it’s not necessary — it stands on its own. Good book. Recommended.

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A Review of The Faithful Spy

Posted by Scott Holstad on July 25, 2014

The Faithful Spy (John Wells, #1)The Faithful Spy by Alex Berenson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Faithful Spy was a very exciting book to read. I like spy/thriller novels, although I actually don’t read that many of them, and this was among the best I have read.

John Wells is a CIA agent who has successfully penetrated al Qaeda. He’s been with them for years, in Afghanistan and Pakistan. However, he hasn’t been in touch with his CIA bosses for years and they don’t even know if he’s still alive or if he’s still on their side. See, Wells has converted to Islam and learns to deplore America’s superficiality and arrogance. That said, he makes contact with Special Forces in Afghanistan after 9/11, which he didn’t foresee, and shortly after, he’s plucked from his Pakistani village by al Qaeda leaders to go back home to America for a hugely important mission, one they don’t fill him in on. Meanwhile, the head of al Qaeda’s nuclear “program” is captured in Iraq and, through torture, fills the US in on potential plots in the US and on John Wells.

Wells comes home and goes to the CIA, where he is given a hostile greeting by the director. However, his handler, Jennifer Exley, still believes in him. He’s put in a virtual prison, but escapes because he wants to stop al Qaeda from whatever it is they’re plotting. What follows is an exciting series of challenges, chases, biological warfare, and confrontations, ultimately with Omar Khandri, John’s al Qaeda handler.

When I read reviews of this book, I was shocked to see how many people viewed it as more of the same. They deplored the love story in the book and thought the middle part of it was boring. I couldn’t view it more differently. I thought the love story was great and really enjoyed the ending. I also thought some of the “boring” parts allowed the characters to be flushed out pretty fully, so I had no problem with that. Just because Wells has to wait to be contacted by his handler doesn’t mean it’s boring, sorry. I thought the terrorism scenarios painted by Berenson were horrifyingly realistic and well thought out. I think he did a great job with this book, and even though it shares some similarities with Frederick Forsythe’s The Afghan, it’s a really good book that stands on its own. Strongly recommended.

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