The Travelers


Title:                     The Travelers

Author:                Chris Pavone

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

LCCN:    2016479944

PS3616.A9566 T74 2017

Summary

  • 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 Pavone wrote about an editor who landed the hottest unpublished tell-all manuscript in world history.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”.

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The Girl from Venice


Title:                      The Girl from Venice

Author:                Martin Cruz Smith

Smith, Martin Cruz (2016). The Girl from Venice. New York: Simon and Schuster

LCCN:    2016017923

PS3569.M5377 G57 2016

Summary

  • “The highly anticipated new standalone novel from Martin Cruz Smith, whom The Washington Post has declared “that uncommon phenomenon: a popular and well-regarded crime novelist who is also a writer of real distinction,” The Girl from Venice is a suspenseful World War II love story set against the beauty, mystery, and danger of occupied Venice. Venice, 1945. The war may be waning, but the city known as La Serenissima is still occupied and the people of Italy fear the power of the Third Reich. One night, under a canopy of stars, a fisherman named Cenzo comes across a young woman’s body floating in the lagoon and soon discovers that she is still alive and in trouble. Born to a wealthy Jewish family, Giulia is on the run from the Wehrmacht SS. Cenzo chooses to protect Giulia rather than hand her over to the Nazis. This act of kindness leads them into the world of Partisans, random executions, the arts of forgery and high explosives, Mussolini’s broken promises, the black market and gold, and, everywhere, the enigmatic maze of the Venice Lagoon. The Girl from Venice is a thriller, a mystery, and a retelling of Italian history that will take your breath away. Most of all it is a love story”– Provided by publisher.

LC Subjects

Date Posted:      June 23, 2017

Review by Dennis Drabelle[1]

The publicity sheet for Martin Cruz Smith’s engaging new novel boasts that the author “does extensive research for all of his books,” including in this case “four trips to Italy.” Extensive but not always freewheeling. At the outset of his career, Smith dazzled Sovietologists by parlaying his background reading and one brief visit to Russia into Gorky Park[2] (1981), which was praised for its accurate insights into the heart of the Soviet police state.

Smith has since written seven more novels featuring the hero of Gorky Park, Arkady Renko, a Russian cop with a conscience. The Girl From Venice, however, is a non-Renko tale with a Western European setting. Two aspects of the new novel obviously drew upon Smith’s dogged research: the life of a fisherman in the Venetian backwaters; and conditions in Italy generally during early 1945, when Benito Mussolini continued to strut and declaim in the northern Italian town of Salo, headquarters of the Nazi puppet state that was all that remained of Il Duce’s empire.

Smith conjures the time and place with a generous dose of what the novelist Evan Connell called “luminous details.” The ubiquity of polenta, for one. Today it’s become something of a delicacy, at least in the United States, but during the war it was an all-too-familiar Italian staple. We learn how fascist propagandists try to poison Italian minds against invading soldiers: “through posters of lecherous Americans with virginal Italian women.” And Smith sketches the sociological complexity of Venice and its environs: “She was from Venice and he was from Pellestrina, which was like saying they were not only from opposite sides of the lagoon but from different worlds. When she spoke she had an elegantly lazy Venetian accent. When he spoke, consonants disappeared.”

“She” is Giulia Silber, a young Jewish woman whom our fisherman, Cenzo (short for Innocenzo) Vianello, pulls out of the water while plying his trade one night. At first she seems to have drowned, but he soon discovers that she is very much alive. Her wealthy and well-connected father—“no Jews were more assimilated into Italian society than the Silbers”—had saved himself and his family by cooperating with the fascists. At this point in the war, with the Allies inexorably seizing Italian territory, the Silbers should have been safe, especially since they’d gone into hiding. But someone betrayed them, Giulia alone has survived, and Cenzo decides to protect her. You won’t be surprised when the consonant-dropping fisherman and the heiress with the lazy accent fall in love along the way.

Cenzo’s task is complicated by the enraging presence of his brother Giorgio, a war hero turned movie star turned fascist spokesman. More to the point, Giorgio recently made Cenzo a cuckold, stealing Cenzo’s wife by promising to make her a movie star—a betrayal that led to the smitten woman’s death. The brothers’ rivalry forms a skillfully interwoven subplot to the main action.

Some of the novel’s most piquant scenes center on the behavior of Mussolini and his hangers-on as their world collapses. Pretense, denial, wishful thinking—these are among the stages in the downfall of a duce. Smith tantalizes us with brief glimpses of Mussolini himself, who among other last-minute vexations must choose what to take with him in the small plane dispatched to spirit him away from hemmed-in Salo: his wife, his mistress or a stack of gold bars.

Smith can write evocatively, as in this description of one of his Nazi villains: “There was no avoiding the colonel’s gaze. One side of the man’s face was ruined and gray and his ear was cut to a stub, but his eyes were bright blue and the impression he gave was of a noble bust that had fallen and been chipped but was still imposing.”

At times, though, Smith seems to let up on the pedal when he should be pressing down—Mussolini’s ignominious death, for example, takes place offstage. Go ahead and manipulate me a bit more, this reader wanted to signal the author.

For the most part, though, Smith makes fine use of his material, including the fishing lore, which Cenzo puts to memorable use at the novel’s climax. The Girl From Venice may not be the most heart-pounding thriller of the year, but its vivid treatments of a timeless trade and certain little-known aspects of World War II make it well worth your time.

[1] Dennis Drabelle, “Martin Cruz Smith brings us wartime Italy in Girl from Venice,” (October 16, 2016), washingtonpost.com. Dennis Drabelle is a former mysteries editor of Book World.

[2] Smith, Martin Cruz (1981). Gorky Park. New York: Random House

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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

Notes

  • 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.

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The Mark of The Assassin


Title:                      The Mark of The Assassin

Author:                Daniel Silva

Silva, Daniel (1998) The Mark of The Assassin. New York: Villard

LCCN:    9800526

PS3619.I5443 M37 1998

LC Subjects

Date Posted:      June 19, 2017

KIRKUS REVIEW[1]

Silva, whose debut, The Unlikely Spy (1997)[2], put the WWII thriller back on the map, brings the genre up to date with a vengeance in an exhilarating story that roots razzle-dazzle espionage heroics in contemporary political headlines. The Islamic fundamentalist group Sword of Gaza has apparently claimed responsibility for the Stinger missile attack that brought down TransAtlantic Flight 002, and the President, lagging in the polls a month before the next election, has responded by recommending a costly new antimissile defense system. But wiser heads at the CIA don’t believe that Sword of Gaza shot down the plane. Michael Osbourne in particular has reason to remember the signature wounds in for their last chance to have children, he’s called away from her side to go after his bête noir, the freelance the face of the dead terrorist found near the Stinger launcher, since years ago his lover was killed in the same distinctive way. Now that Michael and his wife Elizabeth are trying assassin dubbed October, who all but pointed the Stinger at Flight 002, and who’s now agreed to execute all the accomplices to the deed. Michael would be even more worried if he knew about the troubles he had much closer to home—for example, the Society for International Development and Cooperation, those warmongers whose tentacles reach high up in the Agency and the White House itself. The closer Michael gets to October, who’s now taken out a Society contract to liquidate Michael, the greater the danger to himself, his wife, and—thanks to a gleefully inventive series of plot twists—the American political system as we know it. TWA Flight 800, Star Wars, Whitewater, Vince Foster—they’re all here, together with enough soothingly familiar spy stuff (the beautiful killer, the triple-cross, the conspiratorial military-industrial complex) to wring a sigh of pleasure and recognition from the most rabid paranoiac.

[1] Kirkus, downloaded June 19, 2017

[2] Silva, Daniel (1996). The Unlikely Spy. New York: Villard

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The Divided City


Title:                     The Divided City

Author:                Luke McCallin

McCallin, Luke (2016). The Divided City. New York: Berkley

LCCN:    2016037707

PR6113.C3585 D59 2016

Summary

  • “Luke McCallin, author of The Pale House and The Man from Berlin, delivers a dark, compelling thriller set in post-World War II Germany featuring ex-intelligence officer Captain Gregor Reinhardt. A year after Germany’s defeat, Reinhardt has been hired back onto Berlin’s civilian police force. The city is divided among the victorious allied powers, but tensions are growing, and the police are riven by internal rivalries as factions within it jockey for power and influence with Berlin’s new masters. When a man is found slain in a broken-down tenement, Reinhardt embarks on a gruesome investigation. It seems a serial killer is on the loose, and matters only escalate when it’s discovered that one of the victims was the brother of a Nazi scientist. Reinhardt’s search for the truth takes him across the divided city and soon embroils him in a plot involving the Western Allies and the Soviets. And as he comes under the scrutiny of a group of Germans who want to continue the war–and faces an unwanted reminder from his own past–Reinhardt realizes that this investigation could cost him everything as he pursues a killer who believes that all wrongs must be avenged”– Provided by publisher.

LC Subjects

Date Posted:      June 10, 2017

Post-World War II Berlin has attracted the attention of noted thriller authors Joseph Kanon, John Lawton, and Philip Kerr. In The Divided City, Luke McCallin brings his protagonist, ex-intelligence officer Captain Gregor Reinhardt, back to Berlin in 1947. Like Kerr’s Bernie Gunther, Reinhardt served on the Weimar-era city police force and has a checkered wartime past (in Reinhardt’s case, involving his actions in the Balkans).

The Divided City captures the Hobbesian-environment of Berlin in the early years of the Allied occupation. With much of the city in ruins, residents do what they have to in order to survive. Reinhardt, back on the police force, is tasked with solving a series of gruesome murders of former Luftwaffe personnel. In doing so, he attracts the interest of British, American, and Soviet intelligence—to say nothing of a band of embittered German veterans.

McCallin’s considerable strengths as a novelist lie in his evocative prose and memorable characterizations. His plotting, is, in a word Byzantine; I’ll confess to having gotten lost at times in following the complex twists and turns of the story. Yet The Divided City is still an intriguing read, filled with suspense and a compelling cast of characters.

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The Spy


Title:                      The Spy

Author:                Clive Cussler

Cussler, Clive (2010) and Justin Scott. The Spy. New York : G.P. Putnam’s Sons

LCCN:    2010009053

Summary

  • In 1908, a brilliant American battleship gun designer dies in a sensational apparent suicide. The man’s grief-stricken daughter turns to the legendary Van Dorn Detective Agency to clear her father’s name. Van Dorn puts his chief investigator on the case, and Isaac Bell soon realizes that the clues point not to suicide but to murder.

Subjects

Date Posted:      June 7, 2017

Love him or hate him, so the reviews go. The original Clive Cussler books were far more interesting (focusing on Dirk Pitt and the NUMA crew). He had to introduce new characters (Dirk’s kids) and promote people (Admiral Sandecker to Vice President.)

With the Isaac Bell series he had a brand new set of characters and plots to deal with. I have enjoyed all of the series. I don’t post reviews on most of them here since they, for the most part, are really more crime than espionage. This book however has interesting plot lines. To be sure, Isaac Bell is cast as a super hero who always comes out on top, reminding me of the Perils of Pauline. However attacks on US ships and efforts to undermine American naval power in the years preceding WWI are plausible, if perhaps overdone. It is, after all, a novel. It is not supposed to be great literature, it is to be fun to read, and to be a page turner.

I recommend it, both the paperback version as well as the very well done audio verson.

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Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Blacklist Aftermath


Title:            Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Blacklist Aftermath

Author:        Peter Telep

Telep, Peter (2013). Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Blacklist Aftermath. New York: Berkley Books

LCCN:    2014656199

PS 3570 .E447 T665 2013

Subjects

Notes

  • “Based on Ubisoft’s bestselling game, Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell”–Back cover.

Date Posted:      June 7, 2017

Review from Amazon[1]

Peter Telep has presented a series of edge of the chair excitement and intrigue that are real page turners. There are a few similarities between the Splinter Cell series and the Endwar series. I have read both series and thoroughly enjoyed each one. Aftermath is the latest and it keeps you involved from the first page to the last. The only confusion that I have is the involvement of the Snow Maiden here and in The Missing (Endwar). I had just finished Missing before reading Aftermath. The final disposition of the Snow Maiden is different in each story. Keeping them separated was a challenge, but did not detract from either story. If you like lots of action on the international stage, then these two series are great reads. Even though Tom Clancy is no longer with us, his legacy is being carried on ably by Mr. Telep. Keep them coming.

[1] By Bob Oursleron (August 17, 2014) on Amazon.

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