Title:                      Blown

Author:                  Francine Mathews

Mathews, Francine (2005). Blown. New York: Bantam Books

LCCN:    2004046208

PS3563.A8357 B58 2005


Date Posted:      April 19, 2017


More spooky derring-do from CIA intelligence analyst Caroline Carmichael (The Cutout[2], 2004) as she tracks the baddest terrorist organization on earth.

It’s called 30 April, and it’s run by sociopaths who make garden-variety fanaticism seem beneficent. What can one say, for instance—wonders a hard-pressed good guy—about people who regard a young mother’s agonizing death by poison as an occasion for high-fiving? And she was one of nearly a thousand similarly victimized that ghastly day. Disaffected, dangerously demented Daniel Becker, 30 April disciple, did yeoman work during the running of Washington’s Marine Corps Marathon. In disguise, pretending to man a water-relief station, he managed to dispense a cell-mangling bean-mash derivative called ricin in sufficient quantities to qualify as a world-class mass murderer. And the thing is Caroline and her colleagues had every reason to believe 30 April was history, wiped out during a gun fight to which Caroline had been central—an extinction vastly exaggerated, they now learn, applying only to the European version. 30 April, American style, was alive and vicious, vowing death to POTUS and others in high places, including Caroline herself—just retribution, an eye for an eye: “Remember Waco. Remember Ruby Ridge, and the murder of the patriot Tim McVeigh,” that’s the blood-curdling mantra contained in a fax to the Washington Post. In the meantime, Caroline has domestic problems of a different sort. FBI agent—and fellow 30 April task force member—Tom Shephard is hopelessly in love with her, an unwanted complication inasmuch as she’s deeply in love with her super-spy husband, currently out in the cold in Germany, cover blown sky-high—by his boss and hers.

Tightly plotted and, aside from occasional infelicities, decently written: “. . . all his rage and love in his face.” But what keeps the pages turning is the tough, tender, often out-gunned, always battling Caroline.

[1] Kirkus, downloaded April 19, 2017

[2] Mathews, Francine (2001). The Cutout. New York: Bantam Books

An Honorable Man

Title:                      An Honorable Man

Author:                 Paul Vidich

Vidich, Paul (2016). An Honorable Man. New York: Atria Books

LCCN:    2015007547

PS3622.I37 H66 2016


  • “This gripping first novel in a spy thriller series, set in Washington D.C. at the height of the Red Scare, investigates a double agent in the CIA whose betrayals threaten to compromise the two lead investigators, the Agency, and the entire nation” — Provided by publisher.


Date Posted:      March 24, 2017

Review by Jefferson Flanders[1]

Paul Vidich has set his first novel in 1953 Washington, D.C., during the early Eisenhower Administration, when Sen. Joseph McCarthy represented a powerful presence in the Capital, and the FBI sought to surface clandestine Soviet agents in the government. The protagonist of An Honorable Man is a burnt-out CIA agent, George Mueller, who has been assigned to a team hunting for a mole, code named Protocol, inside the Agency. CIA officials want to catch the double agent without alerting the witch hunters in Congress. As the investigation begins, Mueller realizes that he may not be above suspicion himself—and finding the penetration agent is the only way to clear his own name.

An Honorable Man is a solid, and entertaining, spy thriller. Mueller and the supporting characters are well-drawn. Vidich handles the action scenes in the novel with aplomb, although at least one—set at a Russian Embassy summer house—seems a bit forced. Nonetheless, An Honorable Man‘s intricate plot turns will keep the reader guessing at the identity of the “traitor within” until the very end.

Some advance reviewers have likened Vidich to John le Carré (the lazy clichéd comparison often used for espionage novelists). In fact, Vidich’s noirish prose style is closer to Olen Steinhauer’s, and for plot twists he borrows more from Raymond Chandler than le Carré.

[1] Jefferson Flanders, Top Spy Thrillers and Espionage Novels of 2016, downloaded March 24, 2017

The Loo Sanction

Title:                      The Loo Sanction

Author:                 Trevanian

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

LCCN:    73082951

PZ4.T8135 Lo


Date Posted:      January 24, 2017


Trevanian, you’ll remember, can keep up with the old Len Deighton and this is the second appearance of Jonathan Hemlock, ex C11-art critic who finds a still life in the loo, his. This also has something to do with inter-organizational activities and with a Loo organization, run by a Vicar, and sanctions which are assassinations (bodies used as covers or the means of leaking the wrong information) and a girl called Maggie Coyne. You’ll miss her—he does. In a word, irreducible, with the decisively punchy, stylish clout as before.


[1] Kirkus, downloaded January 24, 2017

Best Spy Novels

Title:                      Best Spy Novels

Author:                 Good Reads

Date Posted:      January 10, 2017

Date Updated:  June 7, 2017

The following books were listed by Goodreads ( as the best 100 spy books they recommend. Caveat. Perpendat itaque lector cavendum (civilis).[1] Some readers will not accept book, such as Lee Child’s Jack Reacher books as valid “spy novels.” I have included all items on the list because they involve some element of espionage, from assassination to government conspiracies.

The best spy novels from the 20th and 21st centuries.

  1. Le Carré, John (1974). Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. London: Hodder and Stoughton
  2. Ludlum, Robert (1980). The Bourne Identity . New York: R. Marek Publishers
  3. Le Carré, John (1964). The Spy Who Came In From The Cold. New York, Coward-McCann
  4. Clancy, Tom (1984). The Hunt for Red October .Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press
  5. Forsyth, Frederick (1971). The Day of the Jackal. New York, Viking Press
  6. Larsson, Stieg (2008). The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo. London: MacLehose Press
  7. Follett, Ken (1978). Eye of the Needle. New York: Arbor House
  8. Le Carré, John (1980). Smiley’s People. New York: Knopf
  9. Flynn, Vince (2011). American Assassin: A Thriller. New York: Pocket Books
  10. Forsyth, Frederick (1972). The Odessa File. New York: Viking Press
  11. Clancy, Tom (1988). Patriot Games. New York: Putnam
  12. Greene, Graham (1958, 2007). Our Man in Havana. New York: Penguin
  13. Clancy, Tom (1989). Clear and Present Danger. New York: Putnam
  14. Smith, Martin Cruz (1981). Gorky Park. New York: Random House
  15. Ludlum, Robert (1990). The Bourne Ultimatum. New York : Random House
  16. Brown, Dan (2004). The Da Vinci Code. New York : Doubleday
  17. Clancy, Tom (1986). Red Storm Rising. New York: Putnam
  18. Fleming, Ian (1957, 1981). From Russia with Love. Geneva: Edito-Service
  19. Clancy, Tom (1988). Cardinal of the Kremlin. New York: Putnam
  20. Sewell, William (2013). Nonofficial Asset: The Iran Affair. Bloomington, IN: Authorhouse
  21. Silva, Daniel (2000). The Kill Artist: A Novel. New York : Random House
  22. Larsson, Stieg (2009). The Girl Who Played with Fire. New York: Alfred A. Knopf
  23. Le Carré, John (1977). The Honourable Schoolboy. London: Hodder and Stoughton
  24. Fleming, Ian (1954). Casino Royale. New York: Macmillan
  25. Morcan, James (2011) and Lance Morcan. The Ninth Orphan. Papamoa, N.Z.: Sterling Gate Books
  26. Higgins, Jack (1975). The Eagle Has Landed. London: Collins
  27. Le Carré, John(1989). The Russia House. New York: Knopf
  28. Buchan, John (1915, 1935). The Thirty-Nine Steps. London: W. Blackwood & Sons
  29. Child, Lee (1997). The Killing Floor. New York: Putnam
  30. Greene, Graham (1955, 2004). The Quiet American. New York: Penguin Books
  31. Le Carrè, John (1986). A Perfect Spy. New York: Knopf
  32. DeMille, Nelson (1988). The Charm School. New York, NY: Warner Books
  33. Clancy, Tom (1993). Without Remorse. New York: Putnam
  34. Flynn, Vince (2004). Memorial Day. New York: Atria Books
  35. Baldacci, David (1996, 2016). Absolute Power. New York: Grand Central Publishing
  36. Fleming, Ian (1981). Goldfinger. Geneva: Edito-Service
  37. Flynn, Vince (1999, 2015). Transfer of Power. New York: Pocket Books
  38. Clancy, Tom (1991). The Sum of All Fears. New York: Putnam
  39. Forsyth, Frederick (1974). The Dogs of War. London: Hutchinson
  40. Matthews, Jason (2013). Red Sparrow: A Novel. New York: Scribner
  41. Flynn, Vince (2001). Separation of Power. New York: Pocket Books
  42. Berenson, Alex (2006). The Faithful Spy. New York: Random House
  43. Morcan, James (2012) and Lance Morcan. The Orphan Factory. Papamoa, N.Z: Sterling Gate Books
  44. Silva, Daniel (2011). Portrait of a Spy. New York: Harper
  45. Grady, James (1974). Six Days of The Condor. New York: Norton
  46. Conrad, Joseph (1907, 2007). The Secret Agent: A Simple Tale. New York: New American Library
  47. Le Carré, John (2004). The Little Drummer Girl. New York: Scribner
  48. Steinhauer, Olen (2009). The Tourist. New York: Minotaur Books
  49. Flynn, Vince (2006, 2007). Consent to Kill. New York: Pocket Books
  50. Silva, Daniel (2002). The English Assassin. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons
  51. Deighton, Len (1983, 2012). Berlin Game. New York: Sterling
  52. Robbie, Vic (2012). In Pursuit of Platinum: The Shocking Secret of World War II. Los Gatos: Smashwords Edition
  53. Ludlum, Robert (2003). The Bourne Trilogy. London: Orion
  54. Flynn, Vince (2000). The Third Option. New York: Pocket Books
  55. Fleming, Ian (1963). On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. New York: American Library
  56. DeMille, Nelson (1997). Plum Island. New York: Warner Books
  57. Follett, Ken (1980). The Key to Rebecca. New York, NY: Morrow
  58. Forsyth, Frederick (1985). The Fourth Protocol. New York: Viking
  59. Baldacci, David (2005). The Camel Club. New York: Warner Books
  60. Baldacci, David (2012). The Innocent. New York: Grand Central Publishing
  61. Fleming, Ian (1954). Live and Let Die. London: J. Cape
  62. Le Carré, John (1996). The Tailor of Panama. New York: Alfred A. Knopf
  63. Fleming, Ian (1958, 1968). No. London: Cape
  64. Trevanian (1979, 2005). Shibumi: A Novel. New York: Three Rivers Press
  65. Deighton, Len (1962). The IPCRESS File. New York, Simon and Schuster
  66. Littell, Robert (2002). The Company: A Novel of the CIA. New York: Overlook Press.
  67. Le Carré, John (1965). The Looking–Glass War. London, Heinemann
  68. Clancy, Tom(1994). Debt of Honor. New York: Putnam
  69. Clancy, Tom (1996). Executive Orders. New York: Putnam
  70. Child, Lee (2005). One Shot. New York: Delacorte Press
  71. Hayes, Terry (2014). I Am Pilgrim: A Thriller. New York: Emily Bestler Books/Atria Books
  72. Clark, Norm (2013). The Saladin Strategy. publisher not identified
  73. Gallagher, Michael James (2014). Tsunami Connection: A Kefira Mossad Thriller. Kindle edition
  74. Silva, Daniel (2009). The Defector. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons
  75. Ludlum, Robert (1986). The Bourne Supremacy. Franklin Center, PA: Franklin Library
  76. Furst, Alan (1988). Night Soldiers. Boston: Houghton Mifflin
  77. Flynn, Vince (2008). Extreme Measures: A Thriller. New York: Atria Books
  78. Morcan, James (2013) and Lance Morcan. The Orphan Uprising. Papamoa, N.Z.: Sterling Gate Books Ltd
  79. Le Carré, John (2001). The Constant Gardener: A Novel. New York: Scribner
  80. Le Carré, John [pseud. for David John More Cornwall] (1962, 2102). Call for the Dead. New York : Penguin Books
  81. Silva, Daniel (2012). The Fallen Angel. New York: Harper
  82. Fleming, Ian (1961). Thunderball. London, J. Cape
  83. Silva, Daniel (2008). Moscow Rules. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons
  84. Deighton, Len (1984, 2012). Mexico Set. New York: Sterling
  85. Child, Lee (1998). Die Trying. New York: Putnam
  86. Flynn, Vince (1997). Term Limits. New York: Pocket Books
  87. Flynn, Vince (2012). The Last Man: A Thriller. New York: Emily Bestler Books/Atria Books
  88. Silva, Daniel (2010). The Rembrandt Affair. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons
  89. Child, Lee (2007). Bad Luck And Trouble. New York: Delacorte Press
  90. Furst, Alan (2006). The Foreign Correspondent: A Novel. New York: Random House
  91. Silva, Daniel (2006). The Messenger. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons
  92. Clancy, Tom (2002). Red Rabbit. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons
  93. Greene, Graham (1943, 1950). The Third Man. New York, Viking Press
  94. Le Carré, John (1962, 2012). A Murder of Quality. New York: Penguin Books
  95. Childers, Erskine (1903, 2005). The Riddle of The Sands: A Record of Secret Service. New York: Barnes & Noble Books
  96. Lustbader, Eric (2004). Robert Ludlum’s Jason Bourne In The Bourne Legacy: A Novel. New York: St. Martin’s Press
  97. DeMille, Nelson (2007). Up Country: A Novel. New York: Grand Central Pub.
  98. Greene, Graham (1943). The Ministry of Fear: an entertainment. New York: The Viking Press
  99. Child, Lee (2010). 61 Hours. New York: Delacorte Press
  100. Ambler, Eric (1939, 1996). A Coffin for Dimitrios. New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers

[1] On occasion, personal loyalties and opinions can be carved in stone and defended with a vengeance — at times with some venom thrown in. In these situations, the actual importance of the subject matter is dwarfed by the amount of aggression expressed. Retain a sense of proportion in all online and in-person discussions. [From The Intelligencer: Journal of U. S. Intelligence Studies.]


[1] On occasion, personal loyalties and opinions can be carved in stone and defended with a vengeance — at times with some venom thrown in. In these situations, the actual importance of the subject matter is dwarfed by the amount of aggression expressed. Retain a sense of proportion in all online and in-person discussions. [From The Intelligencer: Journal of U. S. Intelligence Studies.]

London Match

Title:                      London Match

Author:                 Len Deighton

Deighton, Len (1985, 2012). London Match. New York: Sterling

LCCN:    2012454485

PR6054.E37 L6 2012


Date Posted:      November 12, 2015


Last chapter in Deighton’s masterfully entertaining British spy trilogy begun with Berlin Game (1983)[2] and Mexico Set (1984)[3], though—unlike tennis’ game/set/match—neither side really wins. Or does some lone player actually make match point? All three books in the group turn on the same plot points: who is the mole, or who is a true defector (rather than KGB plant—or solitary)? In Berlin Game, Bernard Sampson and his independently wealthy wife Fiona (mother of two) both work for MI6 in Operations, with Berlin as their gameboard. The climax reveals Fiona as the treasonous mole. In Mexico Set, Fiona’s in East Berlin and rising through the KGB ranks while Bernie sinks ever deeper into muck, under suspicion of disloyalty as ex-husband to an active Russian spy. Fiona has her eye on their two kids, who are still in England and—like a good KGB-nik—is trying to boil Bernie’s goose as well. Now, in London Match, Fiona’s making a supreme effort to smash Bernie and get her kids. The entire senior staff of London’s Foreign Office finds itself on slippery ice against the phantom plays of Moscow Centre. Bernie smells something fishy with their KGB defector Erich Stinnes, who was senior assistant to Fiona in Berlin. Is he a plant? Three of his bits of info have blown the cover on Russian networks and led to low-level captures. But it is a very unexciting spy-song that Mrs. Miller, for example, sings before attempting suicide with aspirin (an attempt remedied by stomach pump) and then being assassinated by the KGB in a car driven into a waterway (when the car’s finally hoisted out, it’s empty). Who to blame? Well, everything points toward Bret Rensselaer, who’s been put in charge of debriefing Stinnes. And slimy Dicky Cruyer, adulterer and German Stations Controller, is all for pushing Bret down the tube. But as the reader will suspect, the hand behind the mole is ferocious Fiona’s, and she’s just had a secret meet in Holland with her London-based adulterous sister Tessa, with an eye to recapturing her kids. . .There’s more here than previously, though Bernie’s delicious confrontation with Fiona is reserved for the climax. . .which keeps her offstage until then while the reader longs for some Strindbergian marital storm scenes. The climax is okay but not superterrific—not after a more than 1200-page trilogy. Still, superior fare of its kind.

[1] Kirkus review, downloaded November 12, 2015

[2] Deighton, Len (1983, 2012). Berlin Game. New York: Sterling

[3] Mexico Set (1984, 2012). Mexico Set. New York : Sterling

Mexico Set

Title:                      Mexico Set

Author:                 Len Deighton

Deighton, Len (1984, 2012). Mexico Set. New York: Sterling

LCCN:    2012450703

PR6054.E37 M4 2012


Date Updated:  January 7, 2017


Don’t read this sequel (or even this review) if you’re planning to read Deighton’s Berlin Game[2]—in which British spy Bernard Samson, a very likable narrator, prowled through an espionage maze. . . only to learn that the treasonous mole was his very own wife Fiona, who fled to East Berlin at novel’s end. (The big Fiona secret is out in the open from the very first chapter here.) Now, together with slimily ambitious Dicky Cruyer, Samson has come to Mexico City, where old chum Werner—full-time banker, part-time spy—has spotted a Berlin-based KGB agent named Erich Stinnes. The apparent mission? To persuade Stinnes to defect. So Samson, after some roundabout preliminaries, makes an initial contact with the KGB man—who seems open to UK offers. Back in England, however, this seemingly clear-cut plot begins to thicken around poor Samson. It turns out that Stinnes is senior assistant to ex-wife Fiona, now a Berlin spy-chief; and Fiona makes an incognito London visit (a terrific scene) to warn Samson off, with threats relating to their small children (still in England). Moreover, it then appears that British Intelligence is using the Stinnes operation to test Samson’s loyalty—he’s been under suspicion since Fiona’s defection—while Fiona may be scheming to incriminate her ex-husband! Soon, then, Samson is scrambling around Europe to figure out who his principal enemies are, and whether Stinnes’ interest in defection is really just a trap. He’s framed for murder in Paris, tricked into committing pro-KGB actions, grilled by an assortment of obnoxious colleagues. And the finale returns to Mexico for the tense defection-attempt—with some nasty interference from Werner’s greedy wife Zena. . .and from Fiona’s most ruthless KGB ally. (The story will continue in a third, final installment, a Match[3]—in Paris, perhaps?—to go along with the Game and Set.) Again, as in Berlin Game, Deighton doesn’t fully develop the potent personal aspects of Samson’s dilemma: there are only the briefest glimpses of his mother-abandoned children. And the plotting is rather thin, with lots of repetition and loose threads. Still, if only sporadically gripping, this lesser sequel is still several cuts above the spy-thriller norm—thanks to Deighton’s engaging hero, his fine-tuned bits of sardonic characterization, and his uncommonly readable, elegantly spiky narration. (“‘I’m not an idiot,’ said Werner, using the unemotional tone but exaggerated clarity with which a man might specify decaffeinated coffee to an inattentive waiter.”)

[1] Kirkus review, downloaded November 11, 2015

[2] Deighton, Len (1983, 2012). Berlin Game. New York: Sterling

[3] Not. Will be London Match.

Berlin Game

Title:                      Berlin Game

Author:                 Len Deighton

Deighton, Len (1983, 2012). Berlin Game. New York: Sterling

LCCN:    2012454992

PR6054.E37 B4 2012


Date Posted:      November 11, 2015


Bernard Sampson, the narrator of this new Deighton spy-novel, is 40-ish, a soldier’s son, Berlin-raised, non-Oxbridge—a sardonic veteran who has recently moved from the field to a desk, while his independently wealthy wife Fiona (mother of two) also works at Intelligence, fairly high up in Operations. Now, however, a series of odd, perhaps-connected developments is sending Bernie back into action. For one thing, Britain’s longtime spy within East Germany’s banking community—code-named “Brahms Four”—is ready to defect, even though London wants him to stay put; and Bernie, whose life was once saved by Brahms Four, is the only agent who can handle face-to-face negotiations with this aging, restless spy. Furthermore, there’s uneasiness within the “Brahms Network” of East Berlin spies—who are afraid of being exposed by some unnamed traitor . . . and afraid of giving up their shady financial (non-espionage) dealings. And most disturbing of all is the apparent treason of Intelligence desk-man Giles Trent—who certainly has been passing data to a KGB agent (his spinster sister’s lover). But isn’t it strange how easily Trent’s betrayal is unearthed, how obvious his Russian contacts have been? Could it be that the KGB is using the superficial Trent traitor-dom to cover up some more important, better-concealed traitor—someone closer to the top? So wonders Bernie, especially after Trent attempts suicide. And, teaming up with the one other top desk-man he trusts (but doesn’t like), he tries to use Trent in a scheme to smoke out this high-level traitor. (The plan backfires, leading to Trent’s murder by one of those fearful Brahms Network agents.) Finally, then, Bernie winds up sneaking into East Berlin for a meeting with Brahms Four as the plot-strands converge: Brahms Four knows the identity of the upper-echelon mole. . . and will trade that information for help in defecting. Only in these last chapters, with taut defection-action (featuring Brahms Four’s plucky wife) and Bernie’s growing fears about the mole’s identity, does this thriller move into firm gear; earlier, the fragmented puzzles often read like le Carré piece—without the tug or the texture. And Deighton’s powerful central idea here—the husband/wife spy duo—isn’t developed nearly as well as it could have been. Still, the neat character-sketches and London/Berlin atmosphere make it easy to keep reading right past the murky tangles; and once that Berlin-finale begins, Deighton’s most serious spy tale in quite some time becomes compelling enough to make you forget most of those flaws, holes, and missed opportunities.

[1] Kirkus reviews, downloaded November 10, 2015