The Russian Bride


Title:                      The Russian Bride

Author:                 Ed Kovacs

Kovacs, Ed (2015). The Russian Bride. New York : Minotaur Books

LCCN:    2014040990

PS3611.O74943 R87 2015

Summary

  • “Major Kit Bennings is an elite military intelligence agent working undercover in Moscow. When he is blackmailed and compromised by a brutal mafia don and former KGB general, he knows that his military career, if not his life, will soon be over. With little to lose, he goes rogue in the hope of saving his kidnapped sister and stopping a deadly scheme directed against America. Yulana Petkova is a gorgeous woman, devoted mother, and Russian weapons engineer. And maybe more. Spy? Mob assassin? The shotgun marriage to stranger Kit Bennings takes her on a life-or-death hopscotch from Moscow to Los Angeles, from secret US military bases to Las Vegas, where she uses her wiles at every turn to carry out her own hidden agenda. Hunted by killers from both Russia and the United States, Bennings struggles to stop the mobster’s brilliant deception–a theft designed to go unnoticed that will make the mafia kingpin the richest man in the world, while decimating the very heart of America’s economic and intelligence institutions”– Provided by publisher.

Subjects

Date Posted:      February 20, 2017

Reviewed in The Intelligencer[1]

Major Kit Bennings is an elite military intelligence agent working undercover in Moscow. When he is blackmailed and compromised by a brutal mafia don and former KGB general, he knows that his military career, if not his life, will soon be over. With little to lose, he goes rogue in the hope of saving his kidnapped sister and stopping a deadly scheme directed againstAmerica. Yulana Petkova is a gorgeous woman, devoted mother, and Russian weapons engineer. And maybe more. Spy? Mob assassin? The shotgun marriage to stranger Kit Bennings takes her on a life-or-death hopscotch from Moscow to Los Angeles, from secret US military bases to Las Vegas, where she uses her wiles at every turn to carry out her own hidden agenda. Hunted by killers from both Russia and the US, Bennings struggles to stop the mobster’s brilliant deception—a theft designed to go unnoticed—that will make the mafia kingpin the richest man in the world, while decimating the heart of America’s economic and intelligence institutions.

[1] The Intelligencer: Journal of U.S. Intelligence Studies (21, 3, Fall/Winter 2015, p. 141). This “review” is more of a rewrite of the summary provided by the publisher

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The Man With The Golden Typewriter


Title:                      The Man With The Golden Typewriter

Author:                  Ian Fleming

Fleming, Ian (2015), Fergus Fleming, ed. The Man With The Golden Typewriter: Ian Fleming’s James Bond Letters. New York: Bloomsbury,

LCCN:    2015298100

PR6056.L4 Z48 2015

Summary

  • A collection of letters by the creator of James Bond includes correspondences written on his gold typewriter to such recipients as his wife, publisher, editors, fans, and friends, including Raymond Chandler and Noël Coward.

Contents

  • Casino Royale — Live and let die — Moonraker — Notes from America — Diamonds are forever — From Russia with love — Conversations with the Armourer — Dr No — Goldfinger — For your eyes only — The Chandler letters — Thunderball — The spy who loved me — The Liebert letters — On her majesty’s secret service — You only live twice –The man with the golden gun — Afterword — The works of Ian Fleming — The James Bond films.

Subjects

Date Posted:      February 17, 2017

Reviewed in The Intelligencer[1]

On August 16,1952, in a period of doldrums while living in his Jamaican retreat “Goldeneye,” Ian Fleming wrote to his wife, Ann, “My love, This is only a tiny letter to try out my new typewriter and to see if it will write golden words since it is made of gold.” He had bought the golden typewriter as a present to himself for finishing his first novel, Casino Royale[2]. It marked the arrival of James Bond, Agent 007, and the start of a career that saw Fleming become one the world’s most celebrated thriller-writers.

On it he banged out a stream of letters that touched on various aspects of publishing, royalty payments, and the jousting relationship between Fleming and his editor, William Plomer; Fleming’s private passions of scuba diving, fast cars, golf, cards, “along with women, tobacco, martinis, and scrambled eggs,” and the dissolution of his marriage and impact of fame and fortune on his life.

Before his death in 1964 he produced fourteen best-selling Bond books, two works of non-fiction and the famous children’s story Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang. The correspondence ranged from badgering Jonathan Cape about his quota of free copies, to apologizing for equipping Bond with the wrong kind of gun. His letters also reflect his friendship with such contemporaries as Raymond Chandler, Noel Coward, and Somerset Maugham.

[1] The Intelligencer: Journal of U.S. Intelligence Studies (21, 3, Fall/Winter 2015, p. 139).

[2] Fleming, Ian (1954). Casino Royale. New York, Macmillan

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The Spy


Title:                      The Spy

Author:                Paulo Coelho

Coelho, Paulo (2016). The Spy: A Novel. New York: Alfred A. Knopf

LCCN:                    2016034880

PQ9698.13.O3546

Summary

  • “A novel of Mata Hari’s final days, as written by the woman herself while accused of espionage” — Provided by publisher.

Subjects

Notes

  • “Originally published in Brazil as A Espiã by TK in 2016” — Verso title page.

Date Updated:  February 13, 2017

Reviewed by Louis Bayard[1]

Paulo Coelho’s author bio tells us that he “has flirted with death, escaped madness, dallied with drugs, withstood torture, experimented with magic and alchemy, studied philosophy and religion, read voraciously, lost and recovered his faith, and experienced the pain and pleasure of love. In searching for his own place in the world, he has discovered answers for the challenges that everyone faces.”

What are you murmuring? Is it “Thank heaven”? Or is it “What a schmuck”?

I would argue that the whole world divides neatly along that schism and that the “Thank heaven” crowd is far and away the vaster. As Coelho’s publisher reminds us, his books have sold more than 200 million copies and have made him “the most translated living author in the world.” (God has conceded that title, apparently.) In the face of so much affirmation, it would take a black and gnarled soul indeed to dissent, but I am that soul, and I do dissent. I glimpse, in every Coelho exhortation, a hard lacquer of self-regard and New Age snake oil: “No heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dream,” he told us in “The Alchemist” (1988). “It’s the simple things in life that are the most extraordinary; only wise men are able to understand them. . . . The secret of life, though, is to fall seven times and to get up eight times.”

Coelho’s soda fountain of wisdom never runs dry. But if it’s true that “when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it,” then why hasn’t the universe made him a good novelist? His last book ,Adultery (2014), offered proof positive that the oracular fairy-tale voice of The Alchemist is ill-suited to complex grown-ups in modern settings. So it’s perhaps to be expected that his latest effort, The Spy, should bridge the gap between reality and fable by making a heroine of Mata Hari, who straddles both realms.

The legend of Margaretha Zelle (her actual name) was already subsuming her actual life by the time a firing squad took her down in 1917. A Greta Garbo film, arriving 14 years later, painted her as a sphinx fatale who brought men to their knees and held Europe in her dominatrix grip. Subsequent research has etched a less glamorous, more sympathetic portrait: a self-created exotic dancer and courtesan who, under the unique transboundary pressures of World War I, became Earth’s least effectual double agent and whose prosecution was nothing less than a PR coup engineered by the French government.

Credit Coelho, then, for giving Mata her belated due and for using the ancient but still sturdy narrative device of the eleventh-hour confession. In The Spy, Mata, not knowing she is about to die, pens a long letter to her lawyer, outlining the stations on her road to doom: a semi-privileged upbringing in “conservative, Calvinist Holland,” followed by an abusive marriage to an army officer in the Dutch East Indies, followed by a headlong plunge into the glittering lights of Paris.

Mata reinvents herself. Mata gathers and discards lovers. Mata, in the course of performing Javan dances, drops trou for the aristos. (For those who wonder how that last part worked: “When I got to the sixth veil, I went over to the Shiva statue, simulated an orgasm, and cast myself to the ground while removing the seventh and final veil.”)

Where does she learn to dance? Why does she abandon her daughter to her unstable husband? Why does she lie about her origins? Why does she choose that cockamamie stage name (Indonesian, reportedly, for “eye of the day”)? None of those questions will be answered in this slim volume, which devotes an entire chapter to the contents of Mata’s trunks (“3 waistcoats; 2 long-sleeved jackets; 3 combs”) but leaves out her truly inspired final gesture of blowing a kiss to her executioners.

Coelho does spare a moment or two for contemporary historical figures such as Dreyfus. (“But nowadays they swear the poor guy is innocent, and all because of that damn writer, Zola.”) But his main concern is to retrofit his heroine into a feminist martyr, “an emancipated and independent woman in a world ruled by men . . . fearlessly paying the price she had to pay.”

Unfortunately, the Mata Hari who emerges from these underrealized pages is not fearless but clueless, not emancipated but incoherent—and, finally, no more plausible or interesting for the Coelho aphorisms that keep tumbling off her scented lips: “When we don’t know where life is taking us, we are never lost. . . . Though at the moment I am a prisoner, my spirit remains free. . . . The true sin is living so far removed from absolute harmony.”

You’ll find more agency, sensuality and mystery in just one of Greta Garbo’s spider-lashed gazes. Which is to say that, long before Coelho’s Mata offers her services to the Germans, she has committed the unpardonable treason of being a bore.

 

[1] Louis Bayard, “Paulo Coelho’s ‘Spy’ uncovers the life of Mata Hari,” Washington Post. Downloaded December 2, 2016. Louis Bayard is the author, most recently, of Lucky Strikes.

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Assignment in Brittany


Title:                      Assignment in Brittany

Author:                 Helen MacInnes

MacInnes, Helen (1942, 2013). Assignment in Brittany. London: Titan Books

LCCN:    2013431878

PS3525.A24573 A94 2013

Subjects

Date Posted:      February 10, 2017

Review by Tom Nolan[1]

This review is located at Above Suspicion, also by Helen MacInnes.

[1] Tom Nolan, “The Lonely Lives of Shadow Warriors,” The Wall Street Journal (Feb 15, 2013). Downloaded December 28, 2016. Also reviewed is Helen MacInnes, Assignment in Brittany.

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Nonofficial Asset


Title:                      Nonofficial Asset

Author:                 William Sewell

Sewell, William (2013). Nonofficial Asset: The Iran Affair. Bloomington, IN: Authorhouse

OCLC:    864686389

Abstract:

  • Ostensibly he is a world-renowned security expert, but Peyton Stone’s real job is working as a contractor for the CIA when the government needs complete deniability.
Subjects

Date Posted:      February 6, 2017

I seldom use reviews from bookseller web sites, but occasionally a reader-posted review hits it on the head. This review is by Kathleen Patel.[1]

_______

I find myself looking over my shoulder as I write this. This whirlwind experience has left me a bit shaken. I have taken a trip with Mr. Sewell to some of the most dangerous, war torn parts of the world and have been privy to some incredibly frightening government secrets.

You see, Mr. Sewell has lived much of this story. A veteran clandestine contractor, he has applied his intelligence experience behind-enemy-lines. Many of these scenarios are real, along with all the government agencies, military staff and mind blowing technology

His tautly written, thrill-a-minute book takes you on the roller coaster journey of a lifetime. You’ll infiltrate and exfiltrate in and out of Islamabad, Iran, Shanghai, Kazakhstan, Afghanistan and Langley. The story is quick moving and danger lurks around every corner. The incredible detail and vivid descriptions of these locations and circumstances make everything seem a little too real.

Peyton Stone is spy, one of the best. He works for the CIA, but under the radar. They call him a nonofficial asset. He handles operations that may become so ugly that the government needs complete deniability.

He finds that there is a high price to pay when his past comes back to haunt him. He is barely over the shock of the murder of his best friend, when he finds his own life in danger.

Without any choice in the matter, Peyton is in the middle of a deadly covert operation. It’s the kind of scenario that nightmares are made of…a stolen nuclear weapon, a fanatical, rogue Iranian admiral and a plan to rule the world.

[1] Kathleen Patel, “The review I was afraid to write!,” posted to Amazon on October 31, 2012, for the Kindle edition format.

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The Spy Who Spoke Porpoise


Title:                      The Spy Who Spoke Porpoise

Author:                 Philip Wylie

Wylie, Philip (1969).The Spy Who Spoke Porpoise. Garden City, N.Y., Doubleday

LCCN:    74079970

PZ3.W9768 Sp

Date Posted:      January 24, 2017

KIRKUS REVIEW[1]

As inflated as waterwings, this improbably complicated business about Project Neptune, a dead body which is washed up in Hawaii, porpoises trained to signal human intervention on an aquagraph, and one retired Mr. Grove. He’s a former OSS man, acrobat, magician, manufacturer of games now playing a combination of Chinese Checkers and Russian Roulette as he undertakes a mission for the Chief Executive. Along with a corpulent Russian opponent of an earlier era and the C.I.A., there’s a pretty (almost too) young girl who may be with him in his next adventure. Mr. Grove is quite genial but you will find it hard to keep up with him—perhaps even porpoiseless.

[1] Kirkus, downloaded January 24, 2017

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The Eiger Sanction


Title:                      The Eiger Sanction

Author:                 Trevanian

Trevanian (1972) [pseud. Rodney William Whitaker]. The Eiger Sanction. New York: Crown Publishers

LCCN:    72084293

PZ4.T8135 Ei

Subjects

Date Posted:      January 24, 2017

Review by Barron Laycock[1]

In the mid 1970s three back to back best sellers were provided by the reclusive and somewhat mysterious author who wrote under the pen name of Trevanian. The three novels were first, The Eiger Sanction, followed quickly by a sequel, The Loo Sanction[2], and finally, by a complete change of pace with Shibumi[3]. Of the three, The Eiger Sanction was easily the best novel. It is, in fact, a taut and thrilling tale of a once famous mountaineer and retired government assassin turned college art history professor who is forced back into the “sanction” business both by personal greed and crude manipulation by the spymaster of the clandestine government agency that requires his services.

An American courier has been killed in Copenhagen, and he happened to an old friend of Professor Jonathan Hemlock, who is seduced back into harm’s way by “Control”, an albino ex-Nazi who now heads one of our most clandestine federal agencies. Before long Hemlock is on his way to sanction one of the two assailants, and the chase is on. By dint of coincidence, Control discovers that the other assailant is included in an international mountaineering party, which will assault Switzerland’s Eiger the coming summer. Naturally, Hemlock is manipulated into preparing for the climb as a replacement climber.

Once we finally make it to the mountain, the action is literally non-stop, quite accurate technically, and absolutely riveting to read about. The author holds our rapt attention with a plot that unfolds in a quite plausible and inevitably tragic fashion with no one necessarily spared as the frenzy reaches its natural conclusion. This is a terrific spy thriller. This is great entertainment, and something I can heartily recommend as a great summer read. Enjoy!

[1] Barron Laycock, “Terrific Thriller by Trevanian!” at Amazon.com, downloaded January 23, 2017

[2] Trevanian (1973) [pseud. Rodney William Whitaker]. The Loo Sanction. New York: Crown Publishers

[3] Trevanian (1979, 2005). Shibumi: A Novel. New York: Three Rivers Press

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