Russia House

Title:                  Russia House

Author:                John le Carré

Le Carré, John(1989).The Russia House. New York: Knopf

LCCN:    88046159

PR6062.E33 R87 1989


Date Updated:  April 22, 2015

Kirkus Reviews reviewed this book, from which I have adapted the review below.

Does glasnost mean the Cold War is over? le Carré, the ultimate chronicler of Cold War espionage, ponders that issue (and others) in an up-to-date spy fable: his drollest work thus far, his simplest plot by a long shot, and sturdy entertainment throughout—even if not in the same league with the Karla trilogy and other le Carré ‚ classics.

British Intelligence has gotten hold of a manuscript smuggled out of Russia. Part of it consists of wild sociopolitical ramblings. But the other part provides full details on the USSR’s most secret defense weaponry—which is apparently in utter shambles. Can the UK and US trust this data and proceed with grand-scale disarmament? To find out, the Brits recruit the left-wing London publisher Bartholomew “Barley” Scott Blair, who has been chosen—by the manuscript’s author, a reclusive Soviet scientist nicknamed “Goethe”—to handle the book’s publication in the West. Barley’s mission is to rendezvous with Goethe in Russia, ask lots of questions, and evaluate whether he’s for real. . .or just part of a KGB disinformation scheme.

Barley—a gifted amateur jazz-sax player, a quasi-roué‚ in late middle age—has few doubts about Goethe’s sincerity; he shares, with increasing fervor, the scientist’s Utopian dreams of nth-degree glasnost. But the mission is soon mired in complications: CIA interrogations (with lie-detector) of Barley; venal opposition from US defense-contractors; and Barley’s intense—and dangerous—love for Goethe’s friend Katya, the go-between for his USSR visits.

Narrated by a Smiley-like consultant at British Intelligence, the story, unwinds in typical le Carré ‚ style (leisurely interrogations, oblique angles), but without the usual denseness. The book’s more serious threads—debates on disarmament, Barley’s embrace of world peace over the “chauvinist drumbeat,” the love story—tend toward the obvious and the faintly preachy. Still, Barley is a grand, Dickensian creation, the ugly Americans are a richly diverting crew, and this is witty, shapely tale-spinning from a modern master.

The Teeth of the Tiger

Title:                  The Teeth of the Tiger

Author:                 Tom Clancy

Clancy, Tom (2003). The Teeth of the Tiger. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons

LCCN:    2003047125

PS3553.L245 T44 2003


Date Updated:  April 27, 2015

The following review is based largely on a review posted by Joe Hartlaub on BookReporter (January 23, 2011).

It is somewhat difficult to believe that The Teeth of The Tiger is Tom Clancy’s thirteenth novel. One would think that he has written a veritable library of Jack Ryan tales; this simply isn’t so. One might have that impression because, in addition to his novels, Clancy has authored nine nonfiction books concerning the U.S. military and has also fathered a couple of different ongoing series regarding special operation branches within and outside the Armed Forces.

But The Teeth Of The Tiger is his thirteenth, and a lucky one it is. For this is in many ways the beginning of a new legacy for Clancy, providing the perfect vehicle for readers who perhaps fell away a book or two ago and for readers heretofore unfamiliar with Clancy to jump on. At the same time, it provides an exciting yet comfortable ride for those readers who have been with Clancy all along.

The Teeth of The Tiger introduces Hendley Associates, a privately held company that does a quietly profitable business investing and wheeling and dealing in stocks, bonds and currencies. Operating out of its headquarters, known as “The Campus,” its real purpose and mission is to identify, locate and neutralize terrorist threats. Hendley was set up with the knowledge and received the blessing of President Jack Ryan who, before leaving office, supplied Hendley Associates with a drawer full of signed and undated presidential pardons should any of its agents somehow be caught in the engagement of clandestine activities.

Hendley recruits quietly from a number of sources, and its first acquisitions are the Caruso brothers. Dominic is a rookie FBI agent who attracts Hendley’s attention when he quickly and decisively resolves a horrendous kidnapping and murder. His twin brother Brian is a Marine captain who rapidly distinguished himself during his first combat mission in Afghanistan. Both men begin their training, with Brian in particular having some initial misgivings—misgivings that are quickly put to rest when they stumble across a terrorist action with tragic consequences. Hendley unleashes the brothers, who cut a quiet but lethal globetrotting swath through an army of terrorists that threatens to conquer the United States a piece at a time.

Meanwhile Hendley has acquired a new hire, one who actually comes to them, having analytically surmised Hendley’s mission and purpose. That new hire is Jack Ryan, Jr., son of the former president and cousin to the Caruso brothers. Ryan quickly demonstrates an uncanny ability to assimilate and connect random bits of information and make assumptions that more often than not turn out to be on the money. Soon enough, he finds himself joining his cousins in what is to be the role of a passive analyst. Fate, however, has other plans for the three of them.

The Teeth of The Tiger is an incredibly fast-paced novel, in which Clancy eschews the technical explanations that occasionally bogged down the narratives of some of his previous novels. While he continues to demonstrate an uncanny ability to understand and relate to the reader, the focus of The Teeth of The Tiger is more concerned with the ins and outs of intelligence gathering than with the how and why of munitions (though there is a bit of that as well). Clancy continues to play to his strengths, however; there is simply no one who is better at describing the action of battle, especially the new battles in the war on terror, that occur quickly, sometimes quietly, and often without warning. Clancy also displays a fine sense of symmetry in The Teeth of The Tiger, from the beginning of the tale until the very end.

Junior Ryan and the Caruso brothers are just right as well; they are young and make the mistakes in the field that young men would make, but they are errors caused by and often resolved by enthusiasm and energy. That enthusiasm and energy is Clancy’s as well, and it translates onto the printed page. I’m not sure if I’m ready to call this book Clancy’s best book, but I would most assuredly at this point call it my favorite. Highly recommended, whether you’re a Clancy fan or not.

[There’s more to come—the next two books are a continuation of The Teeth of the TigerDead or Alive (2010) and Locked On (2012).]

Red Storm Rising

Title:                  Red Storm Rising

Author:                Tom Clancy

Clancy, Tom (1986). Red Storm Rising. New York: Putnam

LCCN:    86009488

PS3553.L245 R4 1986


Date Updated:  March 10, 2015

Kirkus Reviews says the following about this book.

The author of the best-selling sub-chaser, The Hunt for Red October, launches a bigger confrontation: the USSR takes on NATO for a deadly bout of conventional warfare. Islamic extremists sabotage a major Siberian oil field, leaving the Soviet Union faced with years of fuel shortages. The hawkish Minister of Defense convinces the Politburo to take desperate action: Soviet forces will first neutralize NATO, then invade the Persian Gulf and seize control of its oil.

To buy time for the troops to prepare, the Russians make a major arms-control initiative. But Bob Toland, an analyst for the National Security Agency, notices and reports unusual activity. Soon forces everywhere are on full alert. Teams of elite Red Army troops attack selected West German targets and a shooting war is on. A US base in Keflavik, Iceland, is shocked by a Soviet air and sea assault. The valuable post is lost, but not before a canny Air Force weatherman, Mike Edwards, and a small band of men escape and head for the barren Icelandic outback, where they radio reports of Soviet activity to satellite intelligence. The capture of Iceland not only cuts down on effective defense against subs, it also gives the Russians a handy launching spot for air raids on the convoys that are bringing supplies and soldiers across the Atlantic to Europe. Edward Morris, commander of the U.S.S. Pharris, defends the convoys and tracks shadowy subs until his ship is crippled. In Germany, tank battalions attack and counterattack. Skipper Dan McCafferty leads a pack of US subs deep into the Barents Sea, where they let loose a volley of missiles that hit bases within the Soviet Union itself. Finally, the Soviets, hard pressed, contemplate a “limited” nuclear attack, but several sane men manage to propel the crisis to a negotiated happy end.

Clancy populates both armies with intelligent and likable men, arms them with astonishingly powerful weapons (for some, the virtuosity of these high-tech arms will be the book’s greatest appeal), and succeeds in keeping the action crisp, absorbing The breadth of activity precludes the neat structure of suspense that distinguished Red October. But, still, an informative, readable, sometimes dazzling speculation on superpower war.

The Afghan

Title:                  The Afghan

Author:                Frederick Forsyth

Forsyth, Frederick (2006). The Afghan. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons

LCCN:    2006046357

PR6056.O699 A69 2006b


  • “When British and American intelligence catch wind of a major Al Qaeda operation in the works, they instantly galvanize–but to do what? They know nothing about it: the what, where, or when. They have no sources in Al Qaeda, and it’s impossible to plant someone. Impossible, unless– The Afghan is Izmat Khan, a five-year prisoner of Guantánamo Bay and a former senior commander of the Taliban. The Afghan is also Colonel Mike Martin, a twenty-five-year veteran of war zones around the world–a dark, lean man born and raised in Iraq. In an attempt to stave off disaster, the intelligence agencies will try to do what no one has ever done before–pass off a Westerner as an Arab among Arabs.–From publisher description.”–From source other than the Library of Congress


Date Updated:  December 10, 2015


The Forsyth Formula, al-Qaeda version: A sort of post-9/11 apocalyptic western, this thriller pits White Guys against Black Turbans, the daring forces of freedom versus the jihadi doers of evil.

Should Hasbro ever decide it needs a new G.I. Joe, Mike Martin’s their man. The latest action figure from the Forsyth franchise, he’s a craggy Scot summoned from a wee bit of rest and relaxation at his Hampshire retreat back into the endless global fray. The listening department of Pakistan’s Counter-Terrorism Center has, through cell-phone surveillance, unearthed a plot. One of Osama bin Laden’s financiers has already, clutching his laptop, hurled himself from a balustrade to protect the plans. Hi-tech British cunning retrieves the info, which reveals schemes for “Al Isra,” the biggest potential attack yet. To penetrate al-Qaeda, U.K./U.S. intelligence makes a mole of Martin, passing him off as Izmat Khan, ex-Taliban bigwig serving time in Gitmo. Mirror images of each other, the men are archetypal warriors, Khan a stoic Afghan outraged by the Russian invasion of his country and conned by desperation into bin Laden’s service, Martin a 25-year veteran of killing missions—the Falklands, the Balkans, the Middle East. Plus, passing for Khan is easy for multilingual Martin, son of an oil-company executive stationed in Iraq. He even looks the part: “olive-skinned, black-haired and eyed, lean and very hard of physique.” Martin’s mission earns him martyrdom, but only after all kinds of derring-do involving a ship called The Countess of Richmond, characters screaming “Eject, eject!” and a cameo appearance by John Negroponte.

Gun-club porn—packed with stodgily accurate descriptions of weapons and acronymic slang. Hardly subtle, just bang-bang galore.



Title:                  Spectrum

Author:                David Wise

Wise, David (1981). Spectrum. New York: Viking Press

LCCN:    80017418

PS3573.I785 S6 1981

Date Updated:  December 10, 2015


Another tale of horrific CIA misconduct, nuclear-style—with enough gritty detail and neat grabbers in the plot to compensate, more or less, for journalist Wise’s first-novel clumsinesses. The CIA nastiness starts out under the LBJ administration here, when assistant deputy-director Towny Black oversees a ruthless plan to steal raw material from a US nuclear plant and give it secretly to Israel. Only part of the stolen nuclear stuff actually goes to Israel, however—and 16 years later Black, now CIA head under Pres. Thurlow Anderson, has under his personal control (hidden somewhere near Washington) a convoy of nuclear missiles (to be used for surprise foreign attacks. . . or to blackmail the President). Who knows this dastardly secret? Only Black, his right-hand man Frank DiMario. . . and CIA London chief Bob Travers. And now Travers, whose disgust for evil CIA methods (which began with the use of torture in that nuclear-plant theft 16 years back) has reached the breaking point, is ready to spill the beans—to Gary Hart-like Sen. Barry Owens.

Although Owens finally believes Travers’ wild story, there’s no proof. So they decide to generate some evidence by scaring Towny Black into action: Travers sends Black a letter declaring his intention to Tell All. And sure enough, Black immediately responds by dispatching a super-killer to London (in elaborate disguise) to kill Travers with a poison dart-gun. . . while Owens’ staff searches the Washington area for that hidden stash of nuclear missiles. Soon Travers and girlfriend Valerie are on the run through Europe, chased by the hideous killer (Travers finally shoots him on a train); and tangible evidence of Black’s outrageous ploys is mounting.

Finally, confronted by the President (who has been put in the know), Black plays his ace card: if the President goes ahead and exposes this CIA scandal, Black will fire his missiles at the White House. Thus, there are some chases, kidnaps, and Phantom-jet bomb-droppings before the national security is restored.

It’s a fairly dandy plot—with always at least two parallel lines of action going simultaneously. But Wise makes too many narrative blunders to maintain top suspense: the pace of the opening chapters is deadly slow; chunks of exposition are presented in stiff dialogue; the mechanical sex scenes for Travers and Valerie are laughable; and, though Wise’s apparent vast knowledge of CIA dirty trick history is impressive (and sometimes fascinating), he often stops the narrative dead in order to offer lectures on CIA evil and debates on CIA morality. Not first-rank, then—but the genuinely scary, nearly believable premise makes this a solid bet for thriller fans, especially those with a taste for issues and headlines.

The author of this book is a member of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers (AFIO), and this book is listed on the Association’s website.

The Samarkand Dimension

Title:                  The Samarkand Dimension

Author:                 David Wise

Wise, David (1987). The Samarkand Dimension. Garden City, NY: Doubleday

LCCN:    86019945

PS3573.I785 S25 1987

Date Updated:  April 27, 2015

I often wonder why people who are good at one thing, try to use the tools of what they are good at and apply them to something else. To me it’s like trying to play a clarinet with drum sticks. David Wise writes nonfiction books about espionage and is widely regarded as the dean of espionage writers (perhaps, but I still prefer Nigel West.) The Samarkand Dimension is another of Wise’s ventures into writing fiction.

An Amazon-posted review says the following about the book. There’s a particular style of mystery that I haven’t quite classified yet. Maybe I’ll take a line from TNT and call them “mysteries for guys who like mysteries.” They usually involve a whole lot of sex, a whole lot of gorgeous, curvy women with whom the protagonist doesn’t have sex (unless he’s James Bond, who should have had at least twenty-seven venereal diseases by now), many things blowing up… you get the idea. And all of them, at least all that I’ve read, share a particular writing style, from Ian Fleming to the team who cranked out the Nick Carter books to David Wise. Imagine if Dolph Lundgren were narrating a book, and you have the general idea. Accent and all.

Given that, the good points about David Wise’s The Samarkand Dimension: Lots of gorgeous, curvy women, with whom protagonist David Markham both does and does not have sex; gunfire (although nothing blows up); and writing that can be read in a Dolph Lundgren accent without sounding too terribly silly.

The bad points: the editing, the proofreading, and the printing. Someone was more than asleep at the wheel when this thing was edited and proofread.

David Markham is a CIA operative who’s chosen to go into the Soviet (yes, we had Soviets back then) psywarfare installation at Samarkand and try to find out how far along those evil Russkies are in their psy testing. They’re far enough along to turn a top-secret missile back on its tail and send it crashing into Vandenberg Air Force Base; what else are they capable of?

Not a bad plot, and pretty well-handled. And the underlying mystery (which I can’t give away without all kinds of spoilers) ends up being the kind of whodunit that made me sit there clutching the book and saying “you guys are GOOD.” I never saw it coming, but then I’m awfully thick-skulled about this sort of thing sometimes. Others may get it a lot faster than I did.

The author of this book is a member of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers (AFIO), and this book is listed on the Association’s website.

The Honor of Spies

Title:                  The Honor of Spies

Author:                 W. E. B. Griffin

Griffin, W. E. B. (2009) with William E. Butterworth IV. The Honor of Spies: An Honor Bound Novel. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons

LCCN:    2009042635

PS3557.R489137 H665 2009


Date Updated:  April 27, 2015

I really enjoy W. E. B. Griffin books. I will get any new one that comes out. Books written with his son, William E. Butterworth IV are not vintage Griffin, and I expect that Butterworth wrote the entire thing. I find their joint efforts tedious to read.

Set in 1943, the tedious fifth entry in bestseller Griffin’s sprawling Honor Bound series, coauthored with son Butterworth, picks up where Death and Honor (2008) left off, with Don Cletus Frade, a U.S. Marine Corps major, still trying to expose two Nazi secret missions: Operation Phoenix, which concerns large sums of money being smuggled into Argentina to be used by high-ranking Nazis who plan to flee the Reich if Germany loses the war, and another program that ransoms rich Jews out of Germany.

Most of the many characters continue to scheme against one another and endlessly discuss their plots, coups, and assassination attempts. Brief, violent altercations occasionally interrupt the talk. As usual, the plot abruptly stops, presumably scheduled to resume in the next installment. Newcomers are advised to start with the first of the series. Those who prefer action in their WWII fiction should go elsewhere.

The Honor Bound series, set during World War II, rolls steadily along. In this installment, OSS officer Cletus Frade has a tricky assignment: to help a German lieutenant escape a Mississippi internment camp so that Frade can use the man to make sure a German plot to assassinate Hitler succeeds. Frade also wants to find out what the man’s parents are up to in South America, where, rumor has it, the Germans are preparing for the arrival of senior Nazi officials, who will live there after the war. This is an extremely complex novel, with a large cast and, unfortunately, a lot of clutter, especially in the opening scenes. The story takes quite a while to get moving, and when it finally does, it’s frequently interrupted by lengthy chunks of expository dialogue. Still, the authors’ many fans will likely embrace the novel with open arms (even if casual readers may be a little less forgiving