The Travelers

Title:                     The Travelers

Author:                Chris Pavone

Pavone, Chris (2017). The Travelers. New York: Broadway Books

LCCN:    2016479944

PS3616.A9566 T74 2017


  • When a woman with whom he has shared a harmless flirtation shows up at his hotel door with a gun, travel writer and food expert Will Rhodes discovers the real reason his job occasionally requires him to assume different names and deliver mysterious parcels.
  • Travel writer Will Rhodes is on assignment for Travelers magazine in the wine region of Argentina when a beautiful woman makes him an offer he can’t refuse. Soon Will’s bad choices and dark secrets are taking him across Europe as he is drawn into a tangled web of international intrigue. And the people closest to him may pose the greatest threat of all.

LC Subjects

Date Posted:      June 26, 2017

Review by Janet Maslin[1]

There are two kinds of spy-hopping in The Travelers, Chris Pavone’s third and most furiously peripatetic novel. The first is what an inquisitive whale does when it shoots its head above water. The second is what this espionage novel does when it jumps from Paris to London; the Gulf of Maine to Husavik, Iceland, in the space of three pages; then back to Paris, Husavik and New York City shortly thereafter. Mr. Pavone keeps his readers’ heads spinning and his main character, the travel writer Will Rhodes, on the run.

This author’s sly debut, The Expats, was more notable for suspense and sub rosa ingenuity than for wall-to-wall action. His second, The Accident, turned up the heat. With an insider’s knowledge of publishing—he worked as an editor before turning to novels of intrigue—Mr. Pavone wrote about an editor who landed the hottest unpublished tell-all manuscript in world history. Plausibility was a slight problem, but excitement was not. You barely caught your breath for long enough to wonder what kind of tell-all could live up to that hype.

Now he has raised the ante again. Even the prologue to The Travelers is frenzied. It has Will Rhodes waking up in a hotel room in Mendoza, Argentina, at 2:50 a.m. A menacing male intruder is in his room, wielding … a smartphone? The phone plays a quick clip of a sex scene. Then the woman from the clip materializes for just long enough to clobber Will with a right hook and leave him unconscious. And we’re off to the races.

What was all that about? Will lives with his wife, Chloe, in New York and works as a correspondent for Travelers magazine. This seems like an ordinary job. (“So tell me, Rhodes—are you ever going to turn in that sidebar on the Swiss Alps?”) But it isn’t. When Will makes one of his frequent trips to the airport, he is jokingly called 007 by the check-in guy, Reggie. He “likes to kid that Will isn’t a writer, he’s a spy; that his magazine is just a cover,” Mr. Pavone writes. “Over the years, Reggie hasn’t been the only person to make this tongue-in-cheek accusation.”

Not-exactly-spoiler alert: Reggie’s a smart guy.

And so is Will, or else he’d be dead before The Travelers got very far. The book keeps him on the run through countless efforts to recruit, frame, manipulate, trick and kill him. Readers have to be willing to believe that Will Rhodes is worth all this effort and scheming, even though he is no 007 and has no clandestine duties. Nor does he know about anyone else’s. Mr. Pavone carefully withholds any explanation for the morass that surrounds Will until very late in the game. And this author is so crafty about diversionary tactics that he gives readers no time to wonder what the hot pursuits are really about.

Some of those tactics involve Chloe. Early in the story, while Will is off getting himself permanently compromised and ripe for blackmail in Argentina, Chloe begins pursuing her own furtive career. Some of the people in this book turn out to have espionage connections, but Mr. Pavone would never dream of keeping things that simple: The reader must also sort out the real agents from the impostors. Will has the same problem, but in his case, the stakes are considerably higher. He’s never sure which, if not all, of these contingents want to use him and then get rid of him.

It’s not easy for a writer to maintain the intense kinetic energy that runs throughout The Travelers. It may not be entirely well advised, either. The pacing is so relentless that it feels unmodulated; Mr. Pavone’s other protagonists were given more down time to calculate and assess their situations than Will has. He is constantly driven by serial emergencies, to the point where a huge action scene involves a knife, a crossbow, explosives, a ringing telephone and a cliff, off which at least one character falls. The characters’ thinking? Strictly tactical. The conversation? Just taunts.

Granted, this is no moment for small talk. But the small details in Mr. Pavone’s work are always welcome. Connoisseurs of such stuff should enjoy the book’s 18-point list of instructions for the woman who’d like to lure a man to a romantic terrace restaurant, stab him with a switchblade and push him off a cliff.

There’s room for a lot more of this than the book includes. It’s gratifying to find Will casually noticing a man’s watch and later realizing that it belies something important about the man’s supposed identity. It’s nice to find that Malcolm Somers, the man who edits Travelers and has other, more secretive business to attend to, knows exactly what to pick up at a service station while being tailed by hostile strangers. Why buy coffee when he can leave them with flat tires on their cars?

The Travelers does confirm what Mr. Pavone’s first two books have established: that when it comes to quick-witted, breathless thrillers that trot the globe, his are top-tier. But if he chooses to let the next one breathe more deeply, that would work, too.

[1] Janet Maslin, “In ‘The Travelers,’ Danger at Every Destination,” New York Times (March 15, 2016). A version of this review appears in print on March 16, 2016, on Page C1 of the New York edition with the headline: “Danger in Every Destination for a Peripatetic Travel Writer”.

The Third Option

Title:                      The Third Option

Author:                Vince Flynn

Flynn, Vince (2000). The Third Option. New York: Pocket Books

OCLC:    45137536

Summary: CIA counterterrorism expert Mitch Rapp is sent on a mission to stop a German industrialist selling sensitive materials to a terrorist sponsor, unaware that he is being set up by forces in Washington who will do anything to see him fail.


CIA counterterrorism expert Mitch Rapp is sent on a mission to stop a German industrialist selling sensitive materials to a terrorist sponsor, unaware that he is being set up by forces in Washington who will do anything to see him fail.

Date Posted:      January 6, 2017

The CIA sends their number one counter-terrorist Mitch Rapp to assassinate Count Heinrich Hagenmiller. It is Mitch’s last assignment and he has a bad feeling it could all go wrong. Nevertheless, alongside his fellow CIA agents, Jane and Jim Hoffman, everything goes according to his plan. They get into the Count’s house easily, and when the Count appears, Mitch wastes little time in shooting him between the eyes. When Mitch turns to Jane Hoffmann, she shoots him twice in the chest.

Meanwhile back in Washington Senator Clark meets with Albert Rudin. Rudin has a problem with the CIA and wants the government to replace its directors. He says this will not happen if they hire Irene Kennedy to take over from the current boss. Clark tells him not to worry because he thinks Kennedy will self-destruct.

Peter Cameron spies Jane Hoffmann leaving the Count’s mansion by herself and presumes the mission has been a success. However, inside the mansion, Mitch stirs. He was wearing body armor, so he was only winded and has not received a scratch. Mitch quickly leaves the building, steals a car and heads for France.


Mitch hijacks a taxi and tells the driver to take him to Frankfurt. On the way, he destroys all the evidence that could link him to the Count, changes his clothes and cuts his hair. He uses the driver to book a hotel room before joining a group of cyclists riding to France. Meanwhile, the Jansen’s have reported that Mitch is dead. Irene Kennedy is not sure so visits her boss, John Stansfield, at his home. Stansfield says that she should wait on news about Mitch and find out who is leaking information to the Secretary of State.

On a jet heading to Colorado, Cameron talks to the French assassin Gus Villaume. He has hired him to kill the Jansen’s. On another plane heading the same direction, 3 former members of the Seal Six Team, chat about their latest assignment from the CIA. The leader and ex-commander, Scott Coleman says they have been hired to bring the Jansen’s back to Washington.

Coleman and his men arrive in Colorado and take up a position above the Jansen’s house. Meanwhile Cameron and Villlaume have set up a position 200 meters from the Jansen’s front door. Cameron is lying in undergrowth with his sniper trained on the house. The Jansen’s step out to leave, and he shoots them both dead.

Hank Clark gives Cameron orders to kill both Mitch and Villaume. Cameron hires the unstable Jeff Duser, and they both drive off to kill Villaume’s friend Mario Lukas, the idea being Villaume is nothing without his friend. They set up an elaborate plan that involves a very public battle between Mario and Duser’s men. While Mario is shooting, Duser comes from behind and kills him.

Hank Clark meets with Albert Rudin and Senator Midleton. Hank Clark is trying to get the two Democrats to oppose the president’s likely hiring of Irene Kennedy as the CIA boss and therefore causing a split in the party. His plan seems to be working well, and he encourages Rudin to call Irene in front of his committee and force her to confess to the Count’s assassination.

Meanwhile, Mitch is back in Washington. He finds a way to his friend Marcus Dumond’s coffee shop, and they go back to Dumond’s house. Marcus is a computer hacker for the CIA, and Mitch tells him to hack into the CIA’s system and find him some information linked to his attempted assassination.

Irene Kennedy and Scott Coleman meet John Stansfield at his house. While they are chatting, Mitch breaks into the room with his gun trained at Irene. He demands to know why she ordered the Jansen’s to kill him. Irene says she did not and talks Mitch’s into putting down his weapon.

Cameron meets Clark. He tells the senator that he has recorded a conversation between Mitch and Anna. Hank tells him to break into Anna’s apartment and find out as much information about her as possible. However, Clark is not happy. Lukas’ killing brought unwanted attention and the only way to sort it out is to kill Cameron. When Cameron leaves, Clark gets in contact with the assassin Donatella Rahn and arranges for her to come to Washington.

Scott Coleman and Mitch Rapp join forces to find out who tried to kill Rapp. Mitch phones Villaume on his cell phone and asks him for some answers. Villaume says he is currently on the run from a man he knows as the professor and gives him his number. Mitch phones him and says they need to negotiate for his life.

Mitch’s girlfriend Anna Rielly is kidnapped by the FBI and taken to Mitch’s home in Maryland. Mitch guesses something is wrong and heads to Anna’s apartment. No one is there, but he finds a listening device in the lounge, proving to him that Cameron has been after Anna. He phones Irene Kennedy and tells her to send him her best people.

Mitch and Coleman discover Anna is at Mitch’s house in Maryland, and they organize a surveillance helicopter to hover above the house. With the help of thermal imaging, they can see there are three people in the house. One person leaves in a car and Mitch decides to follow. They catch up with the man at a gas station, pull him into their van and take him back to the house. Here they force him to knock on the door and ask where the girl is. As soon as the agent says the girl is upstairs, Mitch jumps from behind a car and shoots the man in the head. He then kills Duser and runs upstairs to Anna.

Mitch goes to Cameron’s office to arrest him but finds him dead. Meanwhile, the President is on the warpath. He first meets with Midleton, forcing his resignation, and secondly questions Rudin on why he brought Kennedy in front of the committee. He makes it clear to both of them that by going behind his back, they have damaged their own party’s reputation. The next person he sees is Mitch. He tells him he wants him to stay with the CIA, but as head of counter-terrorism. In other words, he will be legitimate. Mitch agrees.

The Dogs of War

Title:                      The Dogs of War

Author:                Frederick Forsyth

Forsyth, Frederick (1974). The Dogs of War. London: Hutchinson

LCCN:    75321133

PZ4.F7349 PR6056.O699

Date Posted:      January 3, 2017

The Dogs of War is a war novel by Frederick Forsyth featuring a small group of European and African mercenary soldiers hired by a British industrialist to depose the government of the fictional African country of Zangaro.

The mercenary protagonists, like the protagonist in the author’s earlier novel The Day of the Jackal[1], are professional killers—ruthless, violent men, heroic only in the loosest sense of the word. Thus, they are anti-heroes. Initially introduced as simply killers, as the novel progresses they are gradually shown to adhere to a relatively moral mercenary code; however as the mercenary leader Shannon tries to explain at one point, it is difficult for civilians to understand this.

The story details a geologist’s mineral discovery, and the preparations for the attack: soldier recruitment, training, reconnaissance, and the logistics of the coup d’état (buying weapons, transport, payment). Like most of Forsyth’s work, the novel is more about the protagonists’ occupational tradecraft than their characters. The source of the title, The Dogs of War, is Act III, scene 1, line 270 of Julius Caesar (1599), by William Shakespeare: Cry, “Havoc!, and let slip the dogs of war”.

Forsyth draws upon his journalistic experiences in reporting the 1970 Biafran War between Biafra and Nigeria; though fictional, the African “Republic of Zangaro’, is based upon Equatorial Guinea, a former Spanish colony. The novel’s dedication to five men named Giorgio, Christian, Schlee, Big Marc and Black Johnny and “the others in the unmarked graves” concludes: “at least we tried”—and clearly alludes to Forsyth’s time in Biafra; the dark tone and cynical plot of the story stem from the same source.

1970: The prologue shows “Cat” Shannon and his fellow mercenaries leaving a West African war they have lost, saying their goodbyes to the General, who employed them for six months.

Subsequently, a prospector employed by British-based company Manson Consolidated sends mineral samples, acquired from the “Crystal Mountain” in the remote hinterland of the African republic of Zangaro, to headquarters. When they are analyzed, ruthless British mining tycoon Sir James Manson realizes that there is a huge platinum deposit in Zangaro. Despite this, thanks to the president of Zangaro, Jean Kimba, being Marxist, homicidal, insane, and under Soviet influence, any public announcement of the findings would benefit only the Russians. Confiding only in his top assistants, security chief Simon Endean and financial expert Martin Thorpe, Manson plans to depose Kimba and install a puppet leader who, for a pittance, will sign over Zangaro’s mining rights to a shell company secretly owned by Manson. When Manson Consolidated eventually acquires the shell company for a fair market price, Sir James Manson and his aides will pocket £60 million.

Upon being recommended from a freelance writer, Endean hires Anglo-Irish mercenary soldier “Cat” Shannon to reconnoiter Zangaro, and to investigate how Kimba might be deposed. After visiting the country posing as a tourist, Shannon reports that the army has little fighting value and that Kimba has concentrated the national armory, treasury and radio station within the presidential palace in Clarence, the Zangaran capital city and principal port. If the palace is stormed and Kimba killed, there will be no opposition to any new regime. Because there is no organized dissident faction in Zangaro, the attacking force will have to be assembled outside the country and land near Clarence to launch the attack. Shannon prices the mission at £100,000, with £10,000 for himself. Although Shannon has dealt only with Endean who is using a false name, he has had Endean tailed by a private investigator and has discovered his true identity and his involvement with Sir James Manson.

Although Manson has taken steps to silence the few people aware of the Crystal Mountain platinum deposit, the chemist who analyzed the samples has inadvertently revealed his findings to the Soviets, who assign a KGB bodyguard to Kimba while they prepare to send in their own geological survey team. Manson learns from a Foreign Office bureaucrat that the Soviets have got wind of the deposit. He commissions Shannon to organize and mount the coup, to take place on the eve of Zangaro’s independence day, one hundred days hence, although he does not tell Shannon of the Soviet involvement.

Shannon assembles his old team to execute the attack on Kimba’s palace: German ex-smuggler Kurt Semmler, South African mortar expert Janni Dupree, Belgian bazooka specialist “Tiny” Marc Vlaminck, and Corsican knife-fighter Jean-Baptiste Langarotti. Semmler travels Europe looking for a suitable cargo ship to transport them and their equipment to Zangaro. Dupree remains in London to buy all their uniforms, boots, haversacks and sleeping bags. Langarotti travels to Marseilles to acquire inflatable boats for the amphibious assault. Vlaminck accompanies Shannon to Belgium to obtain one hundred “Schmeisser” submachine guns from a former member of the SS, then remains in Belgium to prepare them to be smuggled out in oil drums. Shannon then travels to Luxembourg to establish a holding company to handle the purchase of the ship, to Spain to buy 400,000 rounds of 9mm ammunition for the Schmeissers with a forged end user certificate, walkie-talkies, foghorns and flares, and to Yugoslavia to buy bazookas, mortars, and ammunition for them.

Shannon also finds time for a brief sexual liaison with Julie Manson, Sir James’s daughter, from whom he learns the bare essentials of Manson’s true plan. Simultaneously, Charles Roux, one of Shannon’s rivals, tries to have Shannon killed since he was frustrated that Endean did not approach him for the contract despite the freelance writer recommending him. Hearing of this, Langarotti tips Shannon off and they lure the assassin hired by Roux into a trap, sending his severed head to Roux to permanently silence him.

Martin Thorpe has meanwhile secretly purchased the controlling share in Bormac Trading, a mining and plantation-owning company which has long ceased trading, from Lady MacAllister, the ailing widow of the company’s founder. His and Manson’s involvement is concealed behind the names of several fictitious shareholders. Endean has simultaneously obtained the agreement of Colonel Antoine Bobi, a former commander of the Zangaran Army who fell out with Kimba and is now in exile, to participate in Manson’s scheme. Once installed as president, the venal and illiterate Bobi will sign over the mineral rights to the Crystal Mountain to Bormac Trading for a nominal price but a large bribe for himself.

The mercenaries get underway after Semmler acquires a nondescript tramp cargo ship, the Toscana, for the operation. Hidden in oil drums, the Schmeissers are smuggled across the Belgian border into France and loaded aboard the Toscana at Marseilles, along with the uniforms and inflatable boats, marked supposedly for watersports in Morocco. They then sail to Ploče in Yugoslavia to load the mortars and rocket launchers purchased legitimately from an arms dealer, without telling the Yugoslav authorities that they already have arms aboard. These weapons are then concealed below deck and the ship sails to Castellon in Spain to collect the ammunition (supposedly sold to the Iraqi police force). The ship then travels to Freetown in Sierra Leone to pick up six African mercenaries, disguised as casual stevedores, who will also participate in the attack, and Dr. Okoye, an African academic.

The attack on President Kimba’s palace takes place as planned. In the early hours of the morning, the mercenaries land on the shores of Zangaro and set up foghorns and flares to disorient the defenders and light their way through the attack. Dupree and two of the African mercenaries begin the assault by using mortars to bombard both a nearby army camp and the interior of the palace compound, thereby eliminating the palace guard, while Vlaminck destroys the compound gates with anti-tank rockets. As the bombardment ceases, Semmler, Shannon, Langarotti and the other four African mercenaries storm the palace, with Semmler shooting Kimba as he tries to escape through his bedroom window. Kimba’s KGB bodyguard escapes the firefight and shoots Vlaminck in the chest, but Vlaminck retaliates, killing him with his last bazooka rocket as he dies. Meanwhile, Dupree and his two African mercenaries attack the nearby army camp. A Zangaran soldier throws a grenade at them as he flees and one of the African mercenaries throws it back, but it falls short and Dupree, deafened by the mortar and gunfire, fails to hear the warnings and is accidentally killed in the blast.

Around midday, Endean arrives in Clarence to install Colonel Bobi as the new Zangaran president. He has his own bodyguard, a former London East End gang enforcer. When Endean and Bobi arrive at the palace, Shannon lures Bobi into a room where a shot is heard; just as Endean realizes that Shannon has killed Bobi, Shannon then shoots Endean’s bodyguard in self-defense when the guard tries to draw his gun, and casually introduces Dr. Okoye as the new head of government. At Shannon’s request, the Soviet geological survey team’s request to land in Zangaro is permanently refused.

As Shannon drives Endean to the border, he explains that Endean’s otherwise comprehensive research failed to note the 20,000 immigrant workers who did most of the work in Zangaro, but were politically disenfranchised by the Kimba government. A hundred of them, in new uniforms and armed with Schmeissers, have already been recruited as the nucleus of the new Zangaran Army. When Shannon tells Endean that the coup was really conducted on behalf of the General, Endean is furious but Shannon points out that this government will at least be fair, and if Manson wants the platinum, he will have to pay the proper market price. Endean threatens revenge if he ever sees the mercenary in London, but Shannon is unconcerned with the warning.

In the novel’s epilogue, it is revealed that Dupree and Vlaminck were buried in simple unmarked graves near the shore. Semmler, having sold the Toscana to its captain, died while on another mercenary operation in Africa and Langarotti’s fate is ambiguous; the novel tells only that after he took his pay, he was last heard of going to train a new group of Hutu partisans in Burundi against Michel Micombero, telling Shannon “It’s not really the money. It was never for the money.”

The final scene of The Dogs of War reveals that before embarking on the Zangaro operation, Shannon was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer (skin cancer in some American editions). He posts the remainder of his earnings to the surviving family members of his fallen teammates, and also sends a manuscript (presumably outlining the entire plan) to a journalist in London (presumably the aforementioned freelance writer). Later, Shannon walks into the African bush, humming a favorite tune (“Spanish Harlem”), to end his life on his own terms with “a gun in his hand, blood in his mouth, and a bullet in his chest”.

While researching the story of The Dogs of War, Frederick Forsyth pretended to be preparing a coup d’état against Equatorial Guinea on behalf of the Igbo people whom he passionately supports; he was told it would cost 240,000 US dollars.

Five years after the 1973 attempted coup d’état, Forsyth’s research was subject of a feature story in the London Times, in 1978, that posited he had commissioned the operation in earnest; many people believed he was planning a real coup d’état in Equatorial Guinea. Later, Forsyth said that arms dealers were the most frightening people he had ever met; the mercenaries Mike Hoare, Bob Denard, “Black Jack” Schramme and Rolf Steiner are all name-checked in the novel.

Forsyth’s African activities of that time are an extremely controversial subject, and it is difficult to separate fact and fiction; however, as UK National Archives documents released in 2005 disclose, in early 1973 several people in Gibraltar were planning a coup d’état against Equatorial Guinea, in the manner described in The Dogs of War. Spain arrested several mercenaries in the Canary Islands on 23 January 1973, foiling the plot. Although it is difficult to separate what Forsyth pretended to do from what he might have planned to do, it is now reasonably clear, in view of the released documents, that several people were planning a coup d’état, as described by Forsyth, at the time he was researching his novel. Ironically there was a coup d’état in Equatorial Guinea in 1979–the left-wing dictator of Equatorial Guinea was overthrown and killed by his nephew, the current right-wing dictator of Equatorial Guinea. In 2004, in a copycat plan based on Forsyth’s fictional book, an actual attempted coup d’état against Equatorial Guinea, intended to secure lucrative mining rights granted by a client puppet government, involved Mark Thatcher, who was intending to trade on his mother’s (British prime minister Margaret Thatcher) connections and reputation to call favors, and the mercenary Simon Mann, who subsequently stood trial and was convicted. {Thatcher received a suspended 4-year sentence; Mann was sentenced to 34 years in 2008 but was pardoned in 2009}

In Ken Connor’s book How to Stage a Military Coup, the author praises The Dogs of War as a textbook for mercenaries; in much the same way that The Day of the Jackal is appreciated as a guide for assassins.

[1] Forsyth, Frederick (1971). The Day of the Jackal. New York, Viking Press

Debt of Honor

Title:                  Debt of Honor

Author:                 Tom Clancy

Clancy, Tom(1994). Debt of Honor. New York: Putnam

LCCN:    94027313

PS3553.L245 D43 1994


Date Updated:  March 24, 2015

Every novel by Tom Clancy has been “a jaw-tightener and a nail-biter of the first order,” as the San Diego Union described Without Remorse. But Debt of Honor surpasses them all, with Jack Ryan facing his greatest challenge—against a peril that may become all too real. In retrospect, it would seem an odd way to start a war. . . . The end of history. The new world order.

Fine phrases, but as Jack Ryan is about to discover, history isn’t dead yet—and only the nature of the threat is new. On the Pacific island of Saipan, a wealthy Japanese businessman regards his new-bought land with satisfaction. In the Indian Ocean off Sri Lanka, a foreign navy begins a series of highly unusual exercises. At the headquarters of America’s major stock-clearing corporation, an engineer brings a customized computer program on-line for the first time, and smiles at his own private joke.

Three seemingly unrelated incidents, but all just the first links in a chain of events that will stun the world. Called out of retirement to serve as the new President’s National Security Advisor, Jack Ryan quickly realizes that the problems of peace are fully as complex as those of war. Enemies have become friends, friends enemies, and even the form of conflict has changed. What he cannot realize, however, is just how close the next conflict is. And when one of those new enemies readies a strike not only at America’s territory, but at the heart of her economy, it is Ryan, with the help of CIA officers John Clark and Domingo Chavez, who must prepare an untested President to meet the challenge, if Ryan can only figure out how. For there is a debt of honor to be paid—and the price will be terrifyingly high.

Clancy writes compelling novels, and I enjoy them. What I do NOT enjoy is his ultra-rightist political views being foisted on me. Just stick to the story, Clancy, and stop trying to make vote your way.

The Bourne Objective

Title:                  The Bourne Objective

Author:                Eric Van Lustbader

Van Lustbader, Eric (2010). The Bourne Objective. New York: Grand Central Publishing

LCCN:    2009051964

PS3562.U752R645 2010


Date Updated:  May 4, 2015

Readers were first introduced to Jason Bourne’s nemesis Leonid Arkadin, a brilliant Russian assassin and fearless international mercenary, in The Bourne Sanction. His girlfriend was killed during a fight for which an enraged Arkadin blames Bourne. In The Bourne Deception, Arkadin hunted Bourne to take revenge and kill him. Bourne, in a fight for his life, learned that Arkadin’s skills mirror Jason’s because he received the same original CIA Treadstone training. Now, in The Bourne Objective, Jason will turn the tables and target Arkadin. Hunter will become hunted. But revenge can cause great psychological devastation. Has this become too personal for Bourne? Will this hunt be Bourne’s downfall?

The name, Bourne, and of course Robert Ludlum, will automatically sell to readers. However, to me, Van Lustbader, the author continuing the series begun by Ludlum, is no Ludlum. The characters are there, the back story is there, but it rings like a lead bell as far as I am concerned. It’s that fourth dimension a really good mystery writer brings, that made Ludlum’s books so good. This one just isn’t up to my expectations.

The Fourth Protocol

Title:                      The Fourth Protocol

Author:                   Frederick Forsyth

Forsyth, Frederick (1985). The Fourth Protocol. New York: Viking

LCCN:    83040646

PR6056.O699 F6 1984

Date Updated:  October 14, 2015

The Cambridge Four continue today to stir conspiracy theories and inspire endless novels. I have read several books and seen many movies about those four. At the heart of most of the books is Kim Philby.

The Fourth Protocol is a cold war spy story. Kim Philby, a traitor to the UK and a deserter, lives in Russia. He and Russian officials hatch a plot to destabilize the West or even cause revolution. If the plot works, many will die and the alliance between the UK and the USA will be broken. Russia dispatches an agent to the UK, who can pass for an Englishman to work on the plan.

John Preston works with the intelligence agency of the UK government. He is very able, but not much appreciated by his superior. He becomes aware, by accident, that foreign agents are in the country, planning a big coup, but is not sure what it is. The plot consists mainly of his efforts to gather information and put all the pieces together. Not only does Preston have to deal with foreign agents, there are those in his own government whose motives he cannot be sure of and who seem to interfere with the plans to find out what is going on.

Forsyth does his research. He fills his novels with historically accurate details that give so much life to his writing. He is also master of the suspense novel. With spies as his main characters, and intelligence gathering guiding his plot, it is the perfect book for me. No wonder I loved the movie made of the book.

The New York Times (Michiko Kakutani, August 30, 1984) says of the book: “THEY would not really try it, would they?” thinks a senior British Intelligence officer. “Not breach the Fourth Protocol? Or would they? Desperate men sometimes take desperate measures.” Well, of course they’d try—this is a Frederick Forsyth novel, after all. And besides, who cares about probability, anyway?

In The Day of the Jackal, Mr. Forsyth wrote about a plot to assassinate Charles de Gaulle—even though de Gaulle had died peacefully a year before the book was published. And in The Odessa File, he wrote about a Nazi plan to liquidate Israel by using rockets filled with bubonic plague.

What, though, is the “Fourth Protocol,” and why do the Russians want to breach it? To begin with, the year is 1987, and technology has progressed to the point at which it’s possible to build a tiny atomic bomb—“small enough to go in a suitcase and simple enough to be assembled from a dozen prefabricated, milled and threaded components, like a child’s construction kit.” Apparently these things are just as bad as big atomic bombs, and in a way more dangerous, because you can destroy your enemy by planting one of them in a locker or an abandoned house—no need to use missiles that might trigger radar or a counterstrike.

Mr. Forsyth’s Russians, however, don’t simply want to bomb Britain. They are far more subtle than that: their plan is to set off a small nuclear explosion that will give credibility to the British antinuclear movement; that, in turn, will bring the Labor Party to power; that, in turn, will enable hard-core leftists to seize power; that, in turn, will make Britain a Marxist state.

Sound complicated? Most of The Fourth Protocol is pure unadulterated plot—unsullied by well-developed characters, moral insights or interesting prose. When the main story bogs down, Mr. Forsyth simply throws in a subplot about office politics inside British Intelligence, or summons an allusion to a real-life event such as the Falkland crisis, or a previous spy scandal. He even gives the traitor Kim Philby a supporting role in the novel—though his role, like that of many others, ends up being little more than a red herring.

The problem with The Fourth Protocol is not that its premise seems silly: Mr. Forsyth has such a knack for describing technical matters like cracking safes and building bombs, and such a deft ability to juggle the sort of little details spies specialize in, that his novel has a strong documentary sense. The problem with The Fourth Protocol is that—unlike some of the author’s earlier books—it becomes predictable, and so lacking in suspense. Halfway through, the reader knows exactly where it’s headed. In the end, in fact, the novel resembles one of Mr. Forsyth’s little atomic bombs—a kit “assembled from a dozen prefabricated, milled and threaded components.”

The White Tiger

Title:                      The White Tiger

Author:                  Robert Stuart Nathan

Nathan, Robert Stuart (1987). The White Tiger. New York: Simon and Schuster

LCCN:    87004320

PS3564.A8495 W4 1987


Date Updated:  October 8, 2015

Judging by this densely textured and exciting suspense novel, China after Mao is still a dangerous place to be, especially for those in power. I lived in China 1987-89 and can attest that nothing is what it seems to be. No one is secure in power, no matter at what level.

The book’s protagonist, Assistant Deputy Director for Public Security Lu Hong, is a high-ranking policeman of stubborn honest. He becomes suspicious of the circumstances surrounding the death of his esteemed mentor and boss, Sun Sheng, shortly before the Director of Investigations orders Hong to keep an eye on visiting American doctor (and purported spy) Peter Ostrander.

Hong investigates, unofficially and at growing personal risk, the mysterious death of his friend and mentor, while at the same time he is officially tailing a visiting American psychiatrist presumed to be a spy.

Hong’s investigations take him on a journey through the past that ends with his expose of treachery and crime among Mao’s closest associates, the “tigers” of the Revolution. The novel’s chief strengths are its intensely realistic depiction of a Beijing bureaucracy, wherein those with the strongest noses for “spiritual pollution” appear to be the most corrupt, and Hong himself, a sympathetic and credible figure caught in the toils of sordid events. Its weaknesses are a pedestrian style and characterization that, Hong aside, is somewhat lacking in depth and vibrancy

Sheng’s death inevitably ties in with the Ostrander case, as do many other people and events dating back to the early 1940s.