Prussian Blue


Title:                      Prussian Blue

Author:                 Philip Kerr

Kerr, Philip (2018).

OCLC:    995116333

PR 6061 E784 P79 2017

Summary Bernie Gunther, once Commissar of the Third Reich, is on the run from Erich Mielke, the deputy head of Stasi, and reminisces about a case he investigated seventeen years earlier in which someone shot an engineer on the terrace of Hitler’s private residence.
The French Riviera, 1956. Erich Mielke, deputy head of the East German Stasi, has turned up in Nice, and he’s calling in a debt. Mielke wants Bernie go to London with the vial of Thallium, to poison a female agent they both have had dealings with. Friedrich Korsch, an old Kripo comrade now working for Stasi, is there to make sure Bernie gets the job done. As Bernie bolts for the German border, he recalls the summer of 1939, when the body of a low-level bureaucrat was found at Hitler’s mountaintop retreat in Obersalzberg. Bernie and Korsch have one week to solve the murder.

Date Posted:      October 26, 2017

Reviewed by Jefferson Flanders[1]

Philip Kerr’s latest thriller, Prussian Blue, features his battered hero/anti-hero Bernie Gunther, a former Berlin detective of the Weimar era, once again in peril because of his checkered past. The novel offers parallel storylines: Gunther is on the run in 1956 France, chased by the East German secret services after he has refused to assassinate a Stasi agent in England (who was his lover); he finds himself flashing back to his investigation of a murder at Berchtesgaden (Hitler’s Alpine lair, the “Eagle’s Nest”) in the late 1930s. There are twists-and-turns along the way, but the stories eventually overlap before they are resolved.

One of the more intriguing aspects of Kerr’s Bernie Gunther novels is their clear portrayal of the top Nazis not as rulers of a modern nation state but instead as corrupt crime family bosses, intent on amassing money and power (justifying their brutal actions by a horrific ideology). Traditional histories sometimes miss this element. Prussian Blue captures this insight, as Gunther learn during this investigation that the local Nazis in Berchtesgaden are dealing drugs and running a prostitution ring. Kerr is also clear-eyed about his protagonist: Bernie has committed crimes, done horrible things to stay alive—but his moral compass is not broken, and this native Berliner does what he can to set things right in his rough-and-ready way.

Prussian Blue draws on recent historical research suggesting that the Third Reich’s leaders and soldiers were jacked up on stimulants, particularly Pertavin, a version of methamphetamine. There is some irony in the hypocrisy of Nazis high on meth when their Führer was a strident non-smoking vegetarian (with his own secret drug habit).

If there’s a weakness in the novel, it’s that Kerr asks the reader to suspend belief when it comes to Bernie Gunther’s colorful and often subversive verbal pyrotechnics, which are typically aimed at high-placed Nazis and other grim authority figures. The wise-cracking Bernie has “no filter” (to use a 2017 term), when expressing his views. In real life, his sarcasm, thinly-veiled political insults, and outright insubordination would have bought him a one-way ticket to a concentration camp, no matter how useful his talents as an investigator might be.

[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/

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Vienna Spies


Title:                      Vienna Spies

Author:                  Alex Gerlis

Gerlis, Alex (2017). Vienna Spies: London : 28 Studio

OCLC:    987379387

 

Abstract:

With the end of the Second World War in sight, the Allies begin to divide up the spoils and it proves to be a dangerous game. The British have become aware that, contrary to what’s been agreed, the Soviet Union is intent on controlling Austria once the Second World War ends. And Major Edgar is given the job of establishing an espionage unit in Vienna. He sends in a married Swiss couple–Rolf Eder and Katharina Hoch–who, in fact, have only met each other a week before their journey. Their job is to track down Austria’s most respected politician–in hiding from the Nazis–and bring him over to the British cause. But the feared Soviet spy Viktor Krasotkin is already in the wartorn city, embarking on exactly the same mission.

Subjects

Date Posted:      October 25, 2017

Reviewed by Jefferson Flanders[1]

Vienna Spies is set during the final months of World War II. It has become clear that Germany will lose the war and Austrians realize that their embrace of National Socialism will come with a heavy price. The Red Army is driving the Wehrmacht back toward the west, and it is only a matter of time before Vienna falls.

In Alex Gerlis’ taut thriller, British policy makers have become concerned that Soviet leader Josef Stalin will renege on promises made to support Austria’s post-war neutrality and independence. They decide that they need to find and protect Austria’s leading anti-Nazi politician, one Hubert Leitner, who is hiding in Vienna and who could lead a future government sympathetic to the Allies. MI6 sends two agents, Rolf Eder and Katharina Hoch, who pretend to be a Swiss married couple (he a banker from Zurich, she a nurse). At the same time, the Soviets have also dispatched an experienced NKVD field agent, Viktor Krasotkin, to locate Leitner.

Vienna Spies captures the unrelenting tension for spies living behind enemy lines. The threat of being denounced to the authorities is always present, and the Gestapo is eager to hunt down anyone resisting Nazi rule. Gerlis is aware that modern readers might be skeptical about the ability of foreign agents to survive in a hostile city filled with supporters of Hitler, and he highlights the immense difficulties of trying to establish a cell under such circumstances. (In his Author’s Note, Gerlis cites a scholarly work, The Austrian Resistance 1938-1945[2], and interviews with Austrian refugees from the time, to bolster his case that they were pockets of anti-Nazis in the city).

[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/

[2] Neugebauer, Wolfgang (2014), translated from the German by John Nicholson und Eric Canepa. The Austrian Resistance 1938-1945. Vienna: Edition Steinbauer

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The Good Assassin


Title:                      The Good Assassin

Author:                  Paul Vidich

Vidich, Paul (2017). The Good Assassin: a novel. New York: Emily Bestler Books/Atria

LCCN:    2016043656

PS3622.I37 G66 2017

Summary

  • “Paul Vidich follows up his acclaimed debut spy thriller with a suspenseful tale of Cold War espionage set in 1950s Cuba, as foreign powers compete to influence the outcome of a revolution. Former CIA Agent George Mueller arrives in Havana in August 1958–the last months before the fall of Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista–to look into the activities of Toby Graham, a CIA officer suspected of harboring sympathies for the rebel forces fighting the unpopular Batista regime. Mueller knew Graham as an undergraduate and later they were colleagues in Berlin fighting the Soviet NKVD. Under the guise of their long acquaintance Mueller is recruited to vet rumors that Graham is putting weapons, covertly provided by the CIA to Batista, into the hands of Castro’s forces. Public exposure of the CIA weapons mission, and the activity of one rogue agent, threaten to embarrass the agency. Mueller uncovers a world of deceit as the FBI, CIA, and State Department compete to influence the outcome of the revolution in the face of the brutal dictatorship’s imminent collapse. Graham, meanwhile, is troubled by the hypocrisy of a bankrupt US foreign policy, and has fallen in love with a married American woman, Liz Malone. Paul Vidich has written a powerful story of ideals, passions, betrayals, and corrupting political rivalries in the months before Castro’s triumphant march into Havana on New Year’s Day 1959. This sequel showcases the widely praised talents of Paul Vidich, who Booklist says, “writes with an economy of style that acclaimed novelists might do well to emulate.”“– Provided by publisher.
  • “Paul Vidich follows up his acclaimed debut spy thriller with a suspenseful tale of Cold War espionage set in 1950s Cuba, as foreign powers compete to influence the outcome of a revolution”– Provided by publisher.

LC Subjects

Date Posted:      October 24, 2017

Review by Jefferson Flanders[1]

Paul Vidich’s second spy thriller, The Good Assassin, (a sequel to An Honorable Man[2]), sends his hero, former CIA officer George Mueller, to 1958 Cuba. Mueller undertakes an informal mission to assess whether one of the Agency’s men in Havana, Toby Graham, has “gone rogue” and is secretly assisting Fidel Castro’s rebels with arms shipments.

There’s much to like in Vidich’s novel: he captures the pervasive corruption of dictator Fulgencio Batista’s Cuba, the grinding poverty, the dominance of American mobsters and corporate interests, and the fear of SIM, the brutal Cuban secret police. Then there’s sultry Havana, filled with casinos, bars, sex shows, brothels, and gawking tourists. (Vidich teases the reader with the prospect of Mueller meeting Cuba’s most famous foreign resident, Ernest “Papa” Hemingway, but the hard-drinking author remains off-stage.)

Vidich stretches the boundaries of the spy genre. He has a literary style, with longish ruminations by his characters, and he’s quite willing to drop readers into the middle of a scene and let them piece together the backstory. There are times when the novel seems unevenly paced, but The Good Assassin closes with a flourish.

On a historical note, Vidich is spot on in highlighting the covert support Castro received from some in the CIA. The conservative U.S. ambassador to Cuba, Earl E. T. Smith, later blamed the CIA and some diplomats in the State Department for enabling Castro’s victory. The Cuban Revolution had its admirers in the United States (not just Herbert Matthews of the New York Times who declared Fidel’s revolt to be “radical, democratic, and therefore anti-Communist.”) While Castro may not have started out as a Communist, by the end of the revolution, those close to him, his brother Raul and Ernesto “Che” Guevara, were determined to establish Latin America’s first Marxist-Leninist state. That they succeeded has been a tragedy for the Cuban people.

[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/

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

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A Single Spy


Title:                      A Single Spy

Author:                 William Christie

Christie, William (2017). A Single Spy. New York: Minotaur Books

LCCN:    2016055981

PS3553.H735 S56 2017

Summary

  • “A single spy—in the right place and at the right moment—may change the course of history.” Alexsi Ivanovich Smirnov, an orphan and a thief, has been living by his wits and surviving below the ever-watchful eye of the Soviet system until his luck finally runs out. In 1936, at the age of 16, Alexsi is caught by the NKVD and transported to Moscow. There, in the notorious headquarters of the secret police, he is given a choice: be trained and inserted as a spy into Nazi Germany under the identity of his best friend, the long lost nephew of a high ranking Nazi official, or disappear forever in the basement of the Lubyanka. For Alexsi, it’s no choice at all. Over the course of the next seven years, Alexsi has to live his role, that of the devoted nephew of a high Nazi official, and ultimately works for the legendary German spymaster Wilhelm Canaris as an intelligence agent in the Abwehr. All the while, acting as a double agent—reporting back to the NKVD and avoiding detection by the Gestapo. Trapped between the implacable forces of two of the most notorious dictatorships in history, and truly loyal to no one but himself, Alexsi’s goal remains the same—survival. In 1943, Alexsi is chosen by the Gestapo to spearhead one of the most desperate operations of the war—to infiltrate the site of the upcoming Tehran conference between Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin, and set them up to be assassinated. For Alexsi, it’s the moment of truth; for the rest of the world, the future is at stake”— Provided by publisher.

LC Subjects

Date Posted:      October 23, 2017

Reviewed by Jefferson Flanders[1]

At the center of William Christie’s A Single Spy is the character of Alexsi Ivanovich Smirnov, an orphan who lives by his wits in the lawless desert of Soviet Azerbaijan and is recruited into the NKVD in 1936. The spymasters in Dzerzhinsky Square have selected Alexsi because he speaks German and they send him as a teenager to Germany as a deep penetration agent. Alexsi is a survivor, ruthless when cornered, and he successfully infiltrates the Abwehr (German military intelligence) and begins to feed Moscow vital intelligence, including Hitler’s plans for an attack on the Soviet Union (information which Alexsi’s superiors ignore).

Much of the tension in the novel revolves around Alexsi’s precarious position inside German intelligence circles and the risks he must take in communicating with his Soviet handlers. He becomes entangled in Operation LONG JUMP, the Nazi plot to kill Winston Churchill at the 1943 Teheran Conference of the Allied leaders. When Alexsi realizes that both German and Soviet intelligence agencies want the same outcome—the British leader eliminated—he also discovers that he has become expendable. (It’s a threatening situation perfect for a resilient and imaginative survivor to overcome.)

A Single Spy is reminiscent of Alan Furst’s Spies of the Balkans[2] with its depiction of the way the NKVD trained and handled its agents, and with its deeply-researched period detail. The novel is an entertaining and historically informative read, and Christie’s ability to build suspense is impressive.

[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/

[2] Furst, Alan (2010). Spies of The Balkans. New York: Random House

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Defectors


Title:                      Defectors

Author:                 Joseph Kanon

Kanon, Joseph (2017). Defectors: a novel. New York: Atria Books

LCCN:    2016056307

PS3561.A476 D44 2017

Summary

  • “From the bestselling author of Leaving Berlin and The Good German comes a fast-paced and richly imagined novel about an American spy, the Cold War’s most notorious defector, who gave up his country for the safety–and prison–of Moscow, but never lost his gift for betrayal. In 1949, Frank Weeks, fair-haired boy of the newly formed CIA, was exposed as a Communist spy and fled the country to vanish behind the Iron Curtain. Now, twelve years later, he has written his memoirs, a KGB- approved project almost certain to be an international bestseller, and has asked his brother Simon, a publisher, to come to Moscow to edit the manuscript. It’s a reunion Simon both dreads and longs for. The book is sure to be filled with mischief and misinformation; Frank’s motives suspect, the CIA hostile. But the chance to see Frank, his adored older brother, proves irresistible. And at first Frank is still Frank–the same charm, the same jokes, the same bond of affection that transcends ideology. Then Simon begins to glimpse another Frank, still capable of treachery, still actively working for “the service.” He finds himself dragged into the middle of Frank’s new scheme, caught between the KGB and the CIA in a fatal cat and mouse game that only one of the brothers is likely to survive. Defectors is the gripping story of one family torn apart by the divided loyalties of the Cold War, but it’s also a revealing look at the wider community of defectors, American and British, living a twilit Moscow existence, granted privileges but never trusted, spies who have escaped one prison only to find themselves trapped in another that is even more sinister. Filled with authentic period detail and moral ambiguity, Defectors takes us to the heart of a world of secrets, where no one can be trusted and murder is just collateral damage”– Provided by publisher.
  • “From the bestselling author of Leaving Berlin and The Good German comes a fast-paced and richly imagined novel about an American spy, the Cold War’s most notorious defector, who gave up his country for the safety–and prison–of Moscow, but never lost his gift for betrayal”– Provided by publisher.

LC Subjects

Other Subjects

  • FICTION / Suspense.
  • FICTION / Espionage.
  • FICTION / General.

LCCN

Date Posted:      October 20, 2017

Review by Jefferson Flanders[1]

During the Cold War, several high-profile British Establishment figures defected to the Soviet Union, including Kim Philby, Guy Burgess, Donald Maclean, and George Blake, but there were few American moles of similar prominence who fled to Moscow. Agents like Alger Hiss, Julius Rosenberg, and Morton Sobell denied their complicity in espionage and stayed to face prosecution (and conviction) in the United States. Two members of the Rosenberg spy ring—the relatively-obscure American scientists Joel Barr and Alfred Sarant—did make their way to Russia and held high leadership positions in the Soviet military-industrial complex. Their story is told in Steve Usdin’s masterful Engineering Communism: How Two Americans Spied for Stalin and Founded the Soviet Silicon Valley[2].

In Defectors, Joseph Kanon has imagined what it might have been like if an American double agent, an Alger Hiss-like figure, a true believer in Marxism and world revolution, had decamped to the Socialist Paradise. It’s an intriguing premise, and Kanon has constructed a taut thriller around his defector, Frank Weeks, a Harvard-educated OSS veteran. Weeks had betrayed both his CIA colleagues and Latvian agents inserted behind the Iron Curtain during the early Cold War. The novel picks up his story years later, in 1961, as Weeks’s younger brother Simon, a successful New York publisher, arrives in Moscow. Simon has come to finalize the details on Frank’s about-to-be-published book, My Secret Life. (The KGB had encouraged the British defectors to write “tell-all” memoirs, largely as a propaganda exercise).

Simon is conflicted about seeing his brother, the infamous traitor. They were close during their Boston childhood, and Frank’s betrayal and defection had not only come as a surprise to Simon but also had ended his promising State Department career. Their relationship is captured perfectly in this brief back-and-forth:

”You never change. I can still read your face,” Frank said, a fond smile, the intimacy of drink.

“Yes? What’s it saying?”

“You’re worried. You don’t want to take your hand off the checker, until you’re sure. Remember how you used to do that? No move until you thought it was safe.”

Kanon deftly brings the other characters in Defectors to life: Frank’s wife, Joanna, who drinks to deal with the isolation of exile; Boris, the grim, proud KGB agent assigned to watch Frank; Pete DiAngelis, a CIA agent in Moscow who can’t hide his dislike of Frank and all he stands for; and Gareth Jones, a forlorn British defector not above informing on his fellow Westerners. While Defectors is well-plotted, never flagging, it is Kanon’s ability to illuminate the inner worlds of the people encountered in its pages that make it a novel well worth reading.

[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/

[2] Usdin, Steven T. (2005). Engineering Communism: How Two Americans Spied for Stalin And Founded The Soviet Silicon Valley. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press

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Top Secret


Title:                      Top Secret

Author:                 W. E. B. Griffin

Griffin, W. E. B. (2014) and William E. Butterworth IV. Top Secret: a clandestine operations novel. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons

LCCN:    2014003817

PS3557.R489137 T725 2014

Summary

  • “From the #1 New York Times-bestselling author, a brand-new series about the Cold War-and a different breed of warrior. In the first weeks after World War II, a squeaky-clean new second lieutenant named James D. Cronley Jr. is spotted and recruited for a new enterprise that will eventually be transformed into something called the CIA. One war may have ended, but another one has already begun, against an enemy that is bigger, smarter, and more vicious: the Soviet Union. The Soviets have hit the ground running, and Cronley’s job is to help frustrate them, harass them, and spy on them any way he can. His recruiter thinks he has the potential to become an asset-though, of course, he could also screw up spectacularly. And in his first assignment, it looks like that’s exactly what might happen. He’s got seven days to extract a vital piece of information from a Soviet agent, but Cronley’s managed to rile up his superior officers (he seems to have a talent for it), and if he fails, it could be one of the shortest intelligence careers in history. There are enemies everywhere-and, as Cronley is about to find out, some of them even wear the same uniform he does”– Provided by publisher.

LC Subjects

Other Subjects

  • FICTION / Action & Adventure.
  • FICTION / War & Military.
  • FICTION / Suspense.

Date Posted:      October 18, 2017

KIRKUS REVIEW[1]

Opening his Clandestine Operations series, Griffin (Empire and Honor[2], 2012, etc.) drafts warriors from his Honor Bound series to confront post–World War II communist aggression.

It’s late 1945. Army Lt. James Cronley, scion of a Texas ranching family, has played a significant role in frustrating die-hard Nazi attempts to cache bomb-grade uranium in Argentina. By direct order of President Harry S. Truman, Cronley’s promoted to captain for his exploits. He returns to Germany and his Army assignment at a Counterintelligence Corps project wringing intel out of “good German” remnants of Abwehr Ost, an intelligence unit that developed critical information about the Soviet Union. Cronley’s soon trapped in a bureaucratic knife fight among veterans of the Office of Strategic Services (covert operations warriors), CIC loyalists, other Army units and the FBI. Set mostly at an isolated and abandoned Bavarian monastery and elsewhere in Germany, the narrative’s ripe with meetings, confrontations, lies and subterfuge rather than gunplay. The dialogue is standard Griffin sarcasm and one-upmanship, driving a plot which requires getting a captured Russian agent from the Abwehr Ost camp to Argentina. Back in the U.S., Cronley elopes with a young American woman he met during his Argentine expedition, but his bride is killed in a car wreck a day later. Less than a week later, he sleeps with a colonel’s wife, and it becomes clear that Griffin’s male-female interactions will be sex rather than romance. The Griffin style remains immutable: short chapters, macho attitudes, stiff upper lip when threatened, no-sweat heroics, much love for military equipment and weaponry and protocol. That familiarity makes the occasional minor error more notable, and it makes one good-guy escape from the hangman problematic. In keeping with Clandestine Operations’ raison d’être, Griffin’s sketch of the immediate post–WWII bureaucratic territorial clashes has purpose; it’s an outline of how the demobilized OSS hot-war heroes became passionate CIA cold warriors.

G-fans will not be disappointed.

[1] Kirkus, accessed at https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/web-griffin/top-secret-griffin/

[2] Griffin, W. E. B. (2012) and William E. Butterworth IV. Empire and Honor. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons

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Empire and Honor


Title:                      Empire and Honor

Author:                 W. E. B. Griffin

Griffin, W. E. B. (2012) and William E. Butterworth IV. Empire and Honor. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons

LCCN:    2012037747

PS3557.R489137 E47 2012

LC Subjects

Date Posted:      October 18, 2017

KIRKUS REVIEW[1]

The seventh in Griffin’s (Victory and Honor[2], 2011, etc.) Honor Bound series offers more of USMC Maj. Cletus Frade’s escapades.

Here, Griffin’s all-stuff-military-and–intrigue battleground is Argentina. The time is immediately post–World War II, with Juan Perón and Evita double-dealing and Nazis on the side. The good-guy movers and shakers believe the USSR is the next enemy, and remnants of the disbanded OSS (soon to be CIA) want to hide the high command of Abwehr Ost, the Wehrmacht’s anti-communist intelligence group, in Argentina far away from the Soviets. The U.S. rocket program needed von Braun; the spooks needed Abwehr Ost. Argentina is the chosen hideaway, which is complicated by the fact that Argentina is also the lair of Operation Phoenix, a plan by Nazi SS-types dead set on reincarnating fascism. Frade’s late biological father was a rich Argentine colonel, and so Frade’s unofficially charged with rooting out bad Germans and securing good Germans. This book maintains Griffin’s standard narrative trick of employing heroes with stupendous wealth, airplanes and secure hideaways readily available. Frade also happens to be Perón’s godson, but Frade dislikes Tio Juan, which muddies dealings with the Argentine government, mainly Gen. Bernardo Martín, chief of the Bureau of Internal Security. Some Argentines want to assassinate Perón, but many don’t, in spite of Perón being corrupt and overly ambitious, since Perón’s death might spark a civil war. The primary narrative thread involves locating U-234, a submarine that ferried scheming SS-types intent on persevering with fascism’s failures. U-234 also hauled a half-ton of uranium oxide the SS bad guys want to sell to the USSR to finance Operation Phoenix. Although heavily reliant on exposition, the book provides sufficient back story and works as a stand-alone read.

Nothing beats a cinder-block–sized adventure novel on a winter weekend.

[1] Kirkus, accessed at https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/web-griffin/empire-and-honor/

[2] Griffin, W. E. B. (2011) and William E. Butterworth IV. Victory and Honor: An Honor Bound Novel. New York: Penguin.

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