A Divided Spy

Title:                      A Divided Spy

Author:                Charles Cumming

Cumming, Charles (2017). A Divided Spy. New York: St. Martin’s Press

LCCN:    2016037568

PR6103.U484 D58 2017


  • “Thomas Kell thought he was done with spying. A former MI6 officer, he devoted his life to the Service, but it has left him with nothing but grief and a simmering anger against the Kremlin. Then Kell is offered an unexpected chance at revenge. Taking the law into his own hands, he embarks on a mission to recruit a top Russian spy who is in possession of a terrifying secret. As Kell tracks his man from Moscow to London, he finds himself in a high stakes game of cat and mouse in which it becomes increasingly difficult to know who is playing whom. As the mission reaches boiling point, the threat of a catastrophic terrorist attack looms over Britain. Kell is faced with an impossible choice. Loyalty to MI6—or to his own conscience?”—Provided by publisher.

Date Posted:      October 30, 2017

Reviewed by Jefferson Flanders[1]

It’s not easy to write a believable spy thriller set in the here-and-now, because these days reality (Russian hacking, the Deep State, jihadist attacks in Europe’s major cities, Wikileaks, etc.) often is stranger than fiction. Today’s headlines about real world espionage and clandestine skulduggery are hard to top. Charles Cumming’s latest novel, A Divided Spy, is very current in its concerns: Russian espionage directed against the West, and the threat ISIS-inspired violence poses to Western Europe. His protagonist, former MI6 officer Thomas Kell, returns to action, haunted by a lost love and eager to take revenge on the Russian FSB officer, Alexander Minasian, he holds responsible. When Minasian is spotted at an Egyptian resort with an older man in what appears to be a gay relationship, Kell sees an opportunity (through blackmail) to avenge the murder of Rachel Wallinger, his lover.

Resolving this plot line would be more than enough for most authors, but Cumming weaves in a further complication: a potential terror attack on British soil. A young British-Pakistani man, Shahid, has been recruited by ISIS for nefarious purposes, sent to the seaside resort of Brighton, where he blends into the community. When Kell is alerted to this jihadist plot, he must convince a skeptical MI6 establishment of the looming danger with time running out.

Cumming has researched the process by which young Muslim men in Great Britain are drawn into the sick jihadist fantasies of ISIS and this informs the novel in a powerful way. He provides a chilling portrait of Shahid, a man torn between new-found religious fervor and his upbringing in the secular West. Just as disturbing: Cumming suggests British counterintelligence is unprepared to deal with the threat of lone wolf terrorism. A Divided Spy can be read as a warning of what may lie ahead, and an implicit call for a ratcheting up of internal vetting and surveillance in the United Kingdom.

[1] Flanders, Jefferson, “Top Spy Thrillers and Espionage Novels of 2017,” accessed at http://www.jeffersonflanders.com/2017/01/top-spy-thrillers-and-espionage-novels-of-2017/

Act of Treason

Title:                     Act of Treason

Author:                Vince Flynn

Flynn, Vince (2006). Act of Treason. New York: Atria Books

LCCN:    2006299247

PS3556.L94 A25 2006

LC Subjects

Date Posted:      July 10, 2017

Review by Joe Hartlaub[1]

Act of Treason, Vince Flynn’s novel featuring maverick CIA agent Mitch Rapp, is properly classified as a thriller. But Flynn plays with the concept of the genre here, rearranging the blocks, if you will, with electrifying and riveting results.

The story does not concern a terrorist plot about to take place that will change the course of the nation and that must be discovered and prevented before all is lost. Instead, the major action—an explosive attack upon a motorcade carrying presidential candidate Josh Alexander, his wife and vice-presidential candidate Mark Ross—is successfully carried out at the very beginning of the book. Alexander’s wife is killed, and Alexander and Ross, behind in the polls with the election only weeks away, are unexpectedly swept to victory by a sympathetic electorate.

When the identity of the bomber is revealed through a combination of luck, dogged investigation and high technology, Rapp leads a team of CIA agents to capture him, only to discover that the apprehension of the assassin is but one thread in a tapestry that presents a picture of deceit and dishonor that leads to the highest corridors of the White House.

There aren’t many secrets in Act of Treason—it becomes fairly obvious early on where Flynn is going with this—but the unknown factors, such as what Rapp will discover, how he will do so, and, ultimately, what he is going to do about it, is what makes the book a finger-burning page-turner. His major strengths—plotting and pacing–are let out at full throttle so that the 400+ story-packed pages literally fly by.

Flynn’s profile rises with the publication of each new novel, and there is no doubt that Act of Treason will bring him to even loftier heights. Rapp is a hero for our age, a rougher, more independent and ultimately more effective Jack Ryan for the 21st century. He may, or may not, exist as a clandestine force in the real world; here’s hoping that he does.

[1] Joe Hartlaub, at BookReporter (January 11, 2011)

Target Utopia

Title:                     Target Utopia

Author:                Dale Brown

Brown, Dale (2015) and Jim Defelice. Target Utopia: A Dreamland Thriller. New York: HarperCollins

LCCN:    2016659184


  • After tracking a mysterious UAV to a group of Muslim extremists in Borneo, the Whiplash team race against time to recover their stolen technology and discover who is bankrolling the group before they start World War III.

LC Subjects

Date Posted:      June 28, 2017

Dale Brown has a series, “Dreamland” of which this is one of 13 (there will undoubtedly be more). Readers need to be familiar with the series to get full enjoyment from this book. The characters are somewhat established, the concept of Dreamland has been well laid out, and the weapons technology is at times dense.Terr

Review by William D. Curnutt[1]

Dale Brown gives us another good military novel. This time he tackles the art of fighting via drones, but not just the slow drones that fly high and drop ordinance from the sky to take out terrorist. This time it is drones that are fast, highly maneuverable and capable of fighting in pairs or groups in air to air combat that will drive most pilots to land and never go up again.

The artificial intelligence capability of a drone in comparison to the human brain seems to be no contest. The AI can process faster, deliver more options and well, learn. Then put into place a drone without a pilot that can pull an enormous amount of G-Forces in sudden turns, dives, flips, etc. and you have a weapon that can’t be beat. A human pilot would black out from the G-force of the turns of the drone. Thus, while blacked out he is shot out of the sky.

Brown brings his own flying with the military to bear on this novel and knows what he is talking about. With a rogue agent doing his best to build and fly his own drone air force we have an enemy that may be beyond our ability to take out. Thus, the President of the United States must turn to its clandestine group of elite technicians, computer developers and military personnel to find and destroy this rogue operation.

All the while they are having to do this while not starting a war with China who is not happy with the USA for being in their backyard and flying what appears to be military operations that could endanger the Chinese.

The book is well written, the technology is well documented, the air to air fighting tactics are fabulous. All in all if you love Military Novels you will find this most enjoyable.

[1] At Amazon, https://www.amazon.com/Target-Utopia-Dreamland-Dale-Brown/dp/0062122878

The Fix

Title:                      The Fix

Author:                David Baldacci

Baldacci, David (2017). The Fix. New York: Grand Central Publishing

LCCN:    2017931418

PS3552.A446 F59 2017

LC Subjects


  • Sequel to: The Last Mile.

Date Posted:      June 19, 2017

Reviewed by: Toni V. Sweeney[1]

“Those readers thinking they can outguess the author will find their abilities tested . . . ”

On an early morning in Washington, DC, a horrific scene is played out directly in front of what should have been one of the safest places on earth. Across the street from the J. Edgar Hoover Building, a man shoots a woman, then kills himself.

As far as the authorities can tell, the two were strangers. It seems a random murder followed by suicide and eventually the case would’ve been closed as such, except for two very important points:

The man had several classified government contracts, and Amos Decker witnessed the deaths.

Left with synesthesia after a traumatic head injury during his days as an NFL player, Decker also is stricken with perfect recall. He considers neither anything but a curse, for the two afflictions not only changed his personality but also his outlook on life, even as they make him the ultimate investigative agent. Called the “man who can’t forget,” Decker goes through life remembering everything, and at the top of the list are the murders of his wife and daughter two years before, continuing to haunt him every day of his life.

It’s because he can’t forget that Decker comes to believe Walter Dabney didn’t simply choose Anne Berkshire, a complete stranger, as his partner in death. There has to be something more. At this point, he simply isn’t certain what that something is.

Meeting Dabney’s widow and his daughters doesn’t help. They, as well as his co-workers, say everyone liked Walter. He was a good guy, an American success story. To the cynic, that means the dead man undoubtedly had enemies. The problem is Walter Dabney was a good guy, and there’s nothing to prove otherwise . . . until Harper Brown enters the scene.

The agent of the Defense Intelligence Agency orders Decker to back off and leave the investigation to her agency—which makes him more determined to continue. A couple of attempts on his life go a long way to persuading Harper to join forces instead of shouldering him aside.

Soon Brown, Decker, and his team are mired in contradictions and more confusion about Walter Dabney and his relationship with Berkshire, a substitute teacher who lived in a million dollar condo, drove a luxury car, and doesn’t seem to have existed prior to ten years ago.

All Decker has is his infallible memory, replaying the scene before the FBI building again and again, like a slide show viewing each picture, seeking that one detail giving him the answer overlaid as they are with the memory of his own loss. He sympathizes with Dabney’s family even as he considers them suspects, however far-fetched that may be.

“He could imagine the passage of time. He could imagine the lessening of grief, of loss. But he could not imagine that lessening happening to him.  All he had to do was reach back into his perfect memory and there it would all be, the discovery of the bodies, in their full hellish glory, with not a single impression or observation subtracted from the evaluation or diminished by the passage of time.”

All Decker has as a clue is a statement made by both the victim and her killer to different people: That one can know someone a long, long time and suddenly discover he doesn’t know him at all.

He’s certain if he can discover the identity of the persons they spoke of, he’ll find the catalyst for the crime.

His discovery of why Walter Dabney killed Anne Berkshire and then chose to take his own life is a shocking revelation of the act of a loving husband, father, and a thoroughly honorable man.

In a convolution of twists and turns, with the reason for the tragedy always remaining just out of reach, David Baldacci has written another thoroughly entertaining entry in this thriller series. Engaging characters and the use of the protagonist’s affliction create an imaginative if sympathetic effect. The end will come as a surprise. Those readers thinking they can outguess the author will find their abilities tested as they follow Amos Decker to the surprising conclusion of The Fix.

[1] Toni V. Sweeny, New York Journal of Books, downloaded June 19, 2017. Toni V. Sweeney is the author of The Adventures of Sinbad and The Kan Ingan Archives series and also writes under the pseudonym Icy Snow Blackstone.

Unit 400

Title:                      Unit 400

Author:                  T.L. Williams

Williams, T(erry) L. (2014). Unit 400: The Assassins. Ponte Vedra Beach, FL: First Coast Publishers

LCCN:    2013943666

PS3623.I5643 U55 2014


  • “Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps is reeling from a devastating attack on its covert training center in Bandar Deylam, Iran. In retaliation Iran’s Supreme Ruler unleashes an ultra secret weapon—Unit 400. This cadre of trained assassins has its roots in ancient Persian culture, when Ismaili leader, Hassan al-Sabbah, unleashed the Hashasin from their mountain fortress at Alamut to assassinate political and religious foes. One man stands in their way—former Navy SEAL Logan Alexander”—Excerpt of summary from the back of the book.


Date Posted:      April 21, 2017


Ex–Navy SEAL Logan Alexander returns in the sequel to Williams’ 2012 novel Cooper’s Revenge[2].

Alexander is in a good place: He has a huge office at his own consulting firm with a beautiful view of downtown Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood, and he’s made it through combat relatively unscathed. Things are calm until he leaves the office for what he thinks will be a routine lunch with his friend and colleague Hamid. Instead, Logan witnesses Hamid getting stabbed in the chest and left for dead. He tries to help Hamid hang on, to no avail, but his friend manages to whisper to him, “Be careful, Logan. Unit 400”—a code for the Qods Force, a dangerous Iranian assassination squad. Logan soon discovers that the weapon that killed Hamid is none other than his very own SEAL-issue knife—the same one he used to bring down Col. Barzin Ghabel in Iran. He tries to figure out how the knife could have made it all the way to Boston and what it could mean. One thing is clear, however: A deadly message has been sent. From that moment on, Logan is back in the cross hairs, zigzagging across the globe to bring down Unit 400 and stay alive in the process. As a sequel, the story doesn’t pay as much attention to character development as some readers might prefer, but those familiar with the original novel will be pleased to find the same Logan Alexander in charge. Classic elements of a modern espionage story abound: mystery, intrigue, danger, technology, and, importantly, a sense of immediacy, thanks to the global forces at play. Those with a taste for military fiction that tackles current events will find this story enticing. The author might have taken more time to explain the history of Middle Eastern conflicts, but that’s hardly in the job description for a quick spy yarn. As it is, readers definitely won’t feel shortchanged by this consistently exciting thriller.

A worthy follow-up espionage tale.

[1] Kirkus, downloaded April 21, 2017

[2] Williams, T(erry) L. (2013). Cooper’s Revenge. Ponte Vedra Beach, FL: First Coast Publishers

Cooper’s Revenge

Title:                      Cooper’s Revenge

Author:                  T. L. Williams

Williams, T(erry) L. (2013). Cooper’s Revenge. Ponte Vedra Beach, FL: First Coast Publishers

OCLC:    848834601



Date Posted:      April 21, 2017

T.L. Williams’ suspenseful first novel pits Navy Seal Logan Alexander against Iran’s super secret Qods Force, which is training and deploying terrorists to kill American soldiers in the badlands.

Satan’s Spy

Title:                      Satan’s Spy

Author:                  André Le Gallo

Le Gallo, André (2015). Satan’s Spy. D Street Books : Made available through hoopla

OCLC:                    974263006


e book

Summary: We first meet Steve Church on a business trip in Bahrain where terrorists attempt to take over the hotel where he is staying. Using prior CIA training and tradecraft, Steve is able to blunt the attack until the police arrive. On the same day, the Director of the National Clandestine Service at the CIA calls to tell him that she wants to see him urgently. Steve, not knowing the nature of her interest, is conflicted. He is not wild about getting involved again with an overly bureaucratic CIA, and he knows that another CIA assignment would kill his relationship with his live-in girlfriend Kella, a former French intelligence officer. Nevertheless, without being an adrenalin junky, he prefers the excitement of the CIA to working for West Gate, a defense contractor, where he is a fast tracker. Initially astonished and dejected that Steve will again risk his life to obtain information that policy makers will ignore, Kella is unable to change Steve’s mind. Not willing to break off the relationship, Kella executes a mental somersault and recruits herself to go with Steve as his communicator. Meanwhile in Iran, the man who will become Steve’s nemesis, Ali Mousavi, captures, interrogates and executes a scientist suspected of working for the CIA, the Great Satan’s spy agency. He also orders a young American with uncertain loyalties, to Tehran from his home in California to work on a special project. Although Steve’s father Marshall is now semi-retired from the CIA (does a spy ever retire?), he recruits an Iranian intelligence operative on a secret mission to the United States. Without a permanent presence in Iran, the CIA turns to Steve to handle the new agent (XYSENTINEL) in Tehran. Under business cover, Steve and Kella take over the case in Tehran. Their initial goal is to collect intelligence on Iran’s nuclear plans and capabilities. Instead, they learn that Iran is preparing a massive cyber attack against the United States. Iran’s theocracy, humiliated by the American Navy’s control of the Persian Gulf, feels that anonymous cyber warfare is the card to play to force the Great Satan’ to withdraw from the region. From the start, external factors begin to trump Steve’s clandestine tradecraft. At stake is the future of the Middle East, the health of America’s economy, and the lives of Steve and Kella. Today’s headlines will take on an entirely new meaning after you read Satan’s Spy.

Date Posted:      April 20, 2017

Reviewed by AFIO[1]

This second novel from le Gallo is based on his CIA career, especially his experiences in Iran. The novel will resonate with anyone interested in current affairs.

The story catches up with Steve Church and Kella Hastings from their previous assignment (see le Gallo’s The Caliphate[2],) as they are sent to Tehran on a CIA mission to determine the status of Iran’s nuclear weapons program. While undercover, they unveil an insidious plan to cripple America’s infrastructure and must evade capture to prevent a disaster worse than Pearl Harbor and 9/11 combined. The backdrop to the story includes naval clashes in the gulf, Inside-the-Beltway intrigue, and Iran’s religious and tribal mosaics. You will never read the headlines in quite the same way again!

The author has also written papers for intelligence journals and has spoken on intelligence topics to universities on each coast (e.g. Harvard Law and Stanford), to the national laboratories, as well as in the Distinguished Author Series at the National Counterterrorism Center. He was a Visiting Scholar at the Hoover Institution. Further details are available on the Mountain Lake Press website.

[1] Association of Former Intelligence Officers (AFIO) Books by AFIO Authors, downloaded April 20, 2017

[2] Le Gallo, André (2010). The Caliphate. New York: Leisure Books


The Caliphate

Title:                      The Caliphate

Author:                 André Le Gallo

Le Gallo, André (2010). The Caliphate. New York: Leisure Books

LCCN:    2010414296



  • “A radical Muslim group has dedicated itself to the restoration of the Caliphate, a global Muslim empire, and will stop at nothing, including assassination and terrorism, to reach its goal. Steve Church is just a US businessman in Paris. He never expected to be recruited by the CIA as an undercover operative. But now, with his life on the line and with a beautiful woman as part of the cover, Steve is on his way to North Africa—and the terrorists’ Saharan headquarters–in a whirlwind adventure that will change the politics of the Middle East”–P. [4] of cover.


Date Posted:      April 20, 2017

Review at Blogcritics[1]

In the fall of 2009, a Baptist preacher in North Carolina announced that his congregation would sponsor a book burning. His “holy fire” would consume copies of the Bible that were not the King James version. Radical fundamentalist? Early in The Caliphate, author André Le Gallo has one of his characters murder his daughter, “…in the name of Allah.”  What kind of religion is that? Are these two incidents believable? Former director of the CIA, Peter Goss says Le Gallo’s tale is “–too believable to ignore.”

Steve Church is en route to Morocco on business. He represents a company that specializes in counter-terrorism. Steve’s father is a retired CIA man. (Do they ever really retire?) Steve’s itinerary includes a stop in France to see an old friend of his father who just happens to be stepping on the toes of an influential radical fundamentalist. Only this guy isn’t burning books. We meet all the essential characters in the first few chapters including a romantic interest for our hero. Even though some of the situations and plot devices are a bit expected, they’re all still so, well, believable. Credit Le Gallo’s skill at weaving fiction with current events so convincingly that it’s hard to tell if you’re reading a novel or a feature story in Esquire.

Le Gallo’s experience and education lend an air of authority as well as a convincing authenticity to his writing. After thirty years with the CIA and world travel, he’s been there and done that. He also advises readers that the “Islamic content has been double-checked by others with better academic credentials.” The characters he has created and the situations in which they find themselves serve as a warning to the world that any religion can be poisonous. During the Viet Nam era, our military had difficulty discerning the enemy. Today, it is the same in the Middle East. Imagine the frustration of a foreign force coming to the United States and trying to distinguish a friendly Methodist from one who was willing to detonate and die with a bomb inside Walmart? Or in Northern Ireland, does a member of the IRA appear any differently than a non-combatant? How do we hope to survive with a “live and let live” credo, when there are dangerous people out there who will kill you simply because you aren’t a member of their tribe?

The Caliphate is a fast moving adventure of one civilian’s journey through a mine-filled world where zealots on either side of the issues act and react quickly, often making decisions in the blink of an eye with barely a tip of the iceberg visible. The Caliphate serves as a compelling warning to the real world and challenges us with a question. How can the events in our world today conclude with a “Hollywood ending”?

[1] Blogcritics, downloaded April 20, 2017

The Faithful Spy

Title:                      The Faithful Spy

Author:                Alex Berenson

Berenson, Alex (2006). The Faithful Spy. New York: Random House

LCCN:    2005044689

PS3602.E25 F35 2006


Date Updated:  January 8, 2017

Review by Jacob Heilbrunn[1]

If terrorist threats have given a new lease to Western intelligence agencies after the end of the Cold War, they have also provided something of a fillip to the spy novel. The British, stalwart custodians of the genre, have already produced a number of these new thrillers, like Chris Cleave’s Incendiary—which was, coincidentally, released the day of the London subway bombings, July 7, 2005—and Giles Foden’s splendid Zanzibar. Now comes Alex Berenson, a reporter at The New York Times, to redress the imbalance with his first novel, The Faithful Spy.

Berenson offers a very American story—a sort of terrorist “High Noon,” whose Montana-born hero is abandoned not by the local townsfolk but, rather, by his employer, the Central Intelligence Agency. John Wells, laconic and reckless, was ordered to infiltrate Al Qaeda in the late 1990’s. Berenson, who has a superb eye for the telling detail, is excellent at describing Wells’s relations with his new chums in Afghanistan as well as battle scenes.

So successful does Wells become at going native and earning the trust of Al Qaeda’s higher-ups that the C.I.A. begins to wonder if he hasn’t succumbed to a kind of Stockholm syndrome, identifying more with the would-be jihadists than with the good, old-fashioned U.S.A. If Wells is such hot stuff, his superiors ask themselves, then why didn’t he warn them about 9/11? (The answer: he had heard only rumors of “something big.”) Wells quickly becomes a pawn pushed around by glory hounds in the C.I.A. Berenson deftly explores the jockeying for bureaucratic advantage—at the expense of rational policies—that goes on there. Reading him, one begins to suspect that if the war on terrorism is won, it will be despite, not because of, the agency.

After Wells is tapped by none other than Al Qaeda’s No. 2, Ayman al-Zawahiri, to return to the United States for a big operation, he reports to the C.I.A., which now views him as a hostile combatant. But Wells, determined to stop the next Qaeda attack in order to redeem himself for the 9/11 failure, gives the dunderheads in the agency the slip (only his handler and love interest, Jennifer Exley, continues to believe in him) and meets up with his Qaeda contact, one Omar Khadri. Khadri is a cool customer: “When his companions sang tales of black-eyed virgins who would pleasure them for eternity, Khadri turned away to hide his embarrassment. . . . Jihad was an obligation, not a game. Paradise might await in the next world, but Islam needed to triumph here and now.” Does Berenson want to portray Al Qaeda not as an organization of demented crackpots, but as a ruthless foe with a set of grievances and tactics that are . . . logical? Well, no, though he does, probably unavoidably, run the risk of showing empathy for Al Qaeda’s members simply by telling parts of the story from their point of view.

Then there is the issue of torture. Berenson depicts what constitutes, under any reasonable definition, American torture of a detainee who ends up divulging information about Al Qaeda’s plans. “Lies only drew out the pain,” an interrogator named Saul reminds himself.” Eventually every detainee understood that, and when they did, they gave him what he wanted.” Hmm. Did they? One might wish that Berenson had distanced himself from Saul’s bogus claim that torture works effectively to elicit “information about attacks that hadn’t happened yet,” rather than to obtain a mere confession.

But the least persuasive part of Berenson’s exciting, if flawed, tale comes when it abandons any shades of gray to indulge in some chest-thumping. Wells, racked with a deadly plague, toughs it out to save the day at the very last moment. If only it were that simple.

[1] Heilbrunn, Jacob, “Our Man in Al Qaeda,” Sunday Book Review, The New York Times (May 7, 2006). Downloaded February 18, 2016. Jacob Heilbrunn, a frequent contributor to the Book Review, is writing a book on neoconservatism.

The Saladin Strategy

Title:                      The Saladin Strategy

Author:                Norm Clark

Clark, Norm (2013). The Saladin Strategy. publisher not identified

OCLC:    894923518


Date Posted:      January 6, 2017

After twenty years of black-ops for the CIA, Jack McDuff settled into a simpler life as a contract agent known only to his Langley contact. The new, routine-collection of intel for his handler allowed Jack and Mary Conlan to live the”good life” in their Lake Como villa, but not for long. His Vienna meeting, scheduled with an unknown contact, pulls Jack back into the dark world of murder and terrorism. Survival from assassins and the discovery of a secret Jihadist plot unknown to our intelligence services thrusts Jack into an unsanctioned mission, which ultimately takes him to our nation’s Capital. Details emerge and elevate the plot to the highest level. Their mission’s success will upset the global political balance and eliminate America’s influence in the Middle East with no support from her allies. Faced with an imperative to involve an Agency for action, Jack deals with a dilemma. His opposition reaches high into the White House hierarchy and he trusts no one. Jack’s mission, filled with twists and turns, races to a dramatic finale.