The Hunters

Title:                      The Hunters

Author:                  W. E. B. Griffin

Griffin, W. E. B. (2006). The Hunters (A Presidential Agent Novel). New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons

LCCN:    2006037462

PS3557.R489137 H68 2006


Date Updated:  October 28, 2015

I like most of Griffin’s work and believe that it is definitely better when he wrote it alone than when he collaborated with his son, Butterworth.

This is the third book in the Griffin Presidential Agent series. It centers around Homeland Security. I have read comments that Griffin’s books are boring because there is so much dialog and the action moves slowly. I disagree. His facility with dialog makes the book move, develops characters as well as suspense. It continues where The Hostage finished, but it seems to move at an even faster pace, which I enjoy.

Carlos Castillo continues to build his team with the best people he can find, from the various intelligence agencies, as well as the military. I love this aspect of his books, because it is so much like true life, where people progress in their careers, or die, and new people join the team. But as usual I am a bit bothered by the omniscient leader and several other characters who speak several languages with facility – Hungarian, Russian, Spanish, German, all with perfect fluency.

The hunt for the bad guys crosses international boundaries, proving that today’s intelligence operatives need to be multi-lingual and very intelligent. An agent who only speaks English is no longer an effective agent against international terrorists. Hungarian, Russian, German, Spanish and English were the languages for most of this operation. German, Spanish, and obviously English do have a basis in reality for him. I’ve studied Russian and Hungarian seems to be from another world. To develop perfect fluency while being a serving military officer just is a stretch. It seems unrealistic to me that Castillo could have developed facility in all these languages.

The characters are multifaceted and certainly not stereotypical. You have to read to the end, to find out who all the good guys and bad guys really are. Carlos Castillo and his growing band of experts move from country to country, progressing through firefights that reveal bad guys at the highest levels.

As with any Griffin book, the winners are the people who have both the intelligence to analyze complex data, and the strength of character to act on it. In addition to people with military and intelligence skills, Castillo’s team now has: a financial analyst (with the financial and computer expertise to track billions of dollars through the labyrinth of secret international bank accounts); a newspaperman (with the instincts and contacts to uncover bad guys at the highest levels); and Max (who can actually smell bad guys).

For me, this book was as exciting and fast moving as Mr. Griffin’s books on WWII and Korea, with so much action that you feel like you are in the middle of a declared war. I recognize that there are others who disagree with me on this. I suppose that’s part of the reason I know of no movie made from a Griffin book. I wish there were.

This new series continues to highlight Griffin’s contacts with, and knowledge of, the modern military and intelligence communities. Although he points out some infighting between government agencies, he also points out that there are good people in every agency, and if they work together, they can stop the bad guys. This I really like. I served in military intelligence, and NO, it is not an oxymoron. Most of the people I worked with were apolitical and great patriots, working make the country better. I am disgusted with people who constantly belittle our government.

The book deals with heroes from Homeland Security, the Diplomatic Corps, the FBI, the CIA, Special Forces, and other US military units, as well as like-minded patriots in Argentina, Germany and Uruguay.

WEB Griffin is truly the dean of American military story tellers, and this book reveals his understanding of the complex relationship that exists between various intelligence organizations, as well as the military.

This is the audio version of The Hunters, read by Jay O. Sanders. It is abridged, but being on 16 CDs it doesn’t seem to have much of it cut out. I read the print version before listening to the audio version (on a very long trip to Colorado). One should give due credit to Jay Sanders who read this novel for the audio version[1]. He did very well with accents, giving life to words on the page. I heard only one mistake on the entire 16 CDs. Once he referred to the OOA as the Office for Operational Analysis (instead of Organizational). I know that these performers are not paid well for their work, but maybe they should be. He did a fantastic job.

[1] New York: Penguin Audio. ISBN: 978-0143059196


World Without End

Title:                      World Without End

Author:                   Ken Follett

Follett, Ken (2007). World Without End. New York: Dutton

LOC:       2007026639

PR6056.O45 W67 2007

Date Posted:      January 10, 2013

At more than 1,000 pages, Ken Follett’s World without End comes perilously close to fulfilling the promise of its title. The second of the thriller writer’s medieval novels, this new supersized story inspires the same question posed by its doorstop predecessor: Too fat to pick up or too engrossing to put down? Naturally the author prefers the latter. Sure of interest in the project, he invited a crew to film him writing the monster, and the program aired in his native Britain.

All this delighted me as I read it. I have become accustomed to Follett’s whipsaw plotting and repeated recourse to violence and rapine from reading his previous medieval effort, Pillars of the Earth. World without End makes for giddy chutes-and-ladders reading; no situation can be reversed too often, no conflict resolved without serial surprises. Follett’s Middle Ages -bestial, political, and venal -are relentlessly eventful.

The setting is again in Kingsbridge, a stout market town in the heart of England whose 12th century cathedral builders were put through the Follett wringer in Pillars. Now comes the turn of their descendants, as the novel follows four principals through the first half of the calamitous 14th century. Two spirited women -one a stubborn and lovesick serf, the other a preternaturally intelligent merchant’s daughter -lead tempestuous lives intertwined with those of two sons of a ruined nobleman. One boy becomes a master architect; the other, rotten to the core, rises in the ranks of the aristocracy through the application of strategic atrocity. As children, these four witnessed a murder on which the kingdom’s fate hinged; as adults, they struggle for power and position amid the interest groups in the town: monastery, nunnery and merchants’ guild.

There should be a movie, but how can you condense this entire epic into one film? It probably is not Hollywood material, since it covers too many characters, too long a time, and one actually has to pay attention to history. We all know that movies are not designed to make us think.

The Maestro

Title:                      The Maestro

Author:                  John Gardner

Gardner, John (1993). The Maestro. New York: Otto Penzler Books

LCCN:    93019364

PR6057.A63 M3 1993


Date Updated:  October 26, 2015

This is ostensibly a novel about espionage, and it delivers in that department. It has, however, a number of qualities that make it interesting to readers who may not normally read spy thrillers. The main character is the greatest living conductor – supposedly on a par with Toscanini. The story of how he achieved prominence raises a number of questions that are interesting. I did not much like the book The main character, Big Herbie Kruger was just not interesting to me. The back story of his relationship with a coworker didn’t ring true to me. The foisting away of Maestro Passau seems counter to any experience I have had. I waded through the book but did not enjoy it all. The only thing that kept me reading it were the really interesting comments about music throughout the book.

Since we know that many great geniuses (Wagner is an example) led deplorable personal lives, the idea that this character would abandon and even kill some of the people who loved him and would live much of his life on the basis of lies and deceptions is quite credible. The method for telling the story is to have the Maestro deliver his autobiography as a full confession to a secret agent who must evaluate how he should be treated given that he betrayed his country as a spy for Hitler in World War II and also gave secrets to the Russians during the Cold War.

In the latter case, though, he believed he was actually serving his country. As the story progresses we get it from the point of view of the Maestro who is telling it, and of the agent who is listening to it. This causes us to see the same material from several different points of view, which makes it more challenging to determine our own judgment of the characters and events described. Thus we have a work of far greater complexity and literary interest than the normal spy novel.

As I indicated above, fortunately, for me, the author shows a decent knowledge of music and often refers to specific performances on recording, many of which are compared with the Maestro’s own fictitious recordings. This balance between history and fiction is interesting.


Behind the Lines

Title:                  Behind the Lines

Author:                 W. E. B. Griffin

Griffin, W. E. B. (1995). Behind the Lines. New York: Jove Books

LCCN:    95032133

PS3557.R489137 C68 1990 bk. 7


Date Updated:  June 14, 2015

Griffin’s seventh novel in The Corps series (after Close Combat) continues the author’s breezy look at the Marine Corps during WWII. I have enjoyed all the Corps series, becoming a fan of Ken McCoy from the first book. This book’s story line concerns guerrilla warfare activities in the Philippines and the story of Wendell Fertig. Fertig is a historical character, and never received his due from McArthur.

Here, he uses guerrilla action behind the lines in the Philippines as foreground to tell the behind-the-lines tale of the power struggle among Marine General Fleming Pickering, General Douglas MacArthur and Bill Donovan of the fledgling OSS, all of whom are galvanized into action by a radio message from a self-proclaimed general named Wendell Fertig, who has established himself as a guerrilla leader against the Japanese.

Griffin seems to be stuck on a stereotype character in every novel. The stereotype is a wealthy man with an enormous set of skills. He sees things more clearly than almost everyone else. Whatever called on to do, he finds a way to do it. The plutocrat stereotype always drinks Famous Grouse and has a direct connection to the president. McCoy doesn’t fit this model, but Fleming Pickering certainly does. In this novel Pickering has become the central character. It bothers me not a little that in an action book it’s only the rich high-born conservative who saves the day.

Mc Coy is the consummate Marine, the ultimate real fighter, who can carry out the mission whatever the odds. So why isn’t McCoy getting promotions as quickly as the others? “Pluto” went from 1st Lieutenant to major in one page, while with all that Ken is doing he finally gets promoted to Captain. By the way, McCoy’s favorite food seems to be steak and eggs for breakfast.

In the Philippines Fertig is trying to maintain a guerilla operation, hindered by the denial by McArthur that there is any guerilla operation at all, much less a “Fertig.” As far as the Marines are concerned, they go in after having received a message from Fertig. Once the message is verified, a team of men with supplies will be sent in to evacuate any sick or wounded and evaluate Fertig as a potential leader. Complicating matters, however, is MacArthur’s public declaration that guerrilla activity on the Philippines is impossible, and therefore nonexistent, and Bill Donovan’s desire to get the operation under OSS control.

When one reads enough Griffin it is clear what his political views are. One cannot fault him for giving due credit to the bravery and skill of the Marines, and certainly McArthur was an egomaniac. Griffin credits covert operations, particularly run by the OSS, as central to victory in the Pacific. He may be right.

Focusing on a variety of characters involved in the proposed mission, Griffin tells this story with his usual attention to dialogue rather than description, relying frequently on his favored device of moving the plot along through copies of memos, radio messages and telegrams. The boy’s club aura of Griffin’s primarily male world, where everything, even death, seems clear, sunny, bright and uncomplicated, is in full force here; and that should please his fans just fine.


Night over Water

Title:                  Night over Water

Author:                  Ken Follett

Follett, Ken (1991). Night over Water. New York: Signet Books

LCCN:    91017701

PR6056.O45 N54 1991


Date Updated:  June 14, 2015

I had a great admiration for my cousin, Jay Wilson. Jay was a writer for the Lone Ranger on WXYZ in Detroit, before it went national. He was a young officer in the Army during WWII. He and his wife, Francis, were very good to me. They encouraged me to reach out for things more exotic than I would ever encounter in the small town I lived in then. The movie, With a Song in My Heart (1952) about the life of Jane Froman was one of the things they encouraged me to see. One scene in the movie stuck with me – the crash of the USO flight in Lisbon, Portugal harbor, February 22, 1943. The plane was a Boeing 214, The Yankee Clipper, a so-called “flying boat.” It was the only crash in the history of this aircraft.

This book by Follett was the next book he wrote after The Pillars of the Earth (1989) out of his system, Ken Follett returns to the spies, sex, and Nazis that did so well for him in Eye of the Needle. Fascinated by the huge flying boats launched by Pan Am in the late 1930s (the Boeing 314) to fly the north Atlantic route, Follett has cooked up a sort of Airship of Fools or Flying Grand Hotel about a Clipper load of rich folks and lowlifes fleeing England after the declaration of war.

The passengers include a fascist marquess and his family – so much like the Mitfords (an aristocratic British family with Nazi connections) as to include a Nazi daughter and her socialist sister. There is a cuckolded industrialist chasing his pretty wife; an aging movie star; a Jewish refugee physicist; a suspected Mafioso; a rich, powerful, but unloved American widow; the widow’s weak, treacherous brother; and the handsome young jewel-thief without whom no such epic is complete.

The danger that hangs over all these worthies is sabotage of the flight plan by an otherwise trustworthy flight engineer whose wife is being held captive in Maine by nameless rotten scoundrels. The merciless kidnappers want the plane set down early in order to remove a nameless someone before it reaches New York. Since the plane flies rather slowly and since there are three refueling stops, and since the beds make up into comfortable little berths, there is plenty of time for the passengers to search for the marchioness’s priceless rubies, counterplot against the bad guys, stretch the legs in Irish pubs, quarrel, have reconciliations and indulge in a fair amount of good, healthy sex. No technothrills. No psychodrama. Just several pages of good storytelling.