Quick Review: RED WARNING by Matthew Quirk (William Morrow)

QuirkM-RedWarningA long-dormant Cold War plan threats to devastate all of Washington, D.C.

CIA officer Sam Hudson races to find a deep cover operative loose in the U.S. and a mole in the Agency before they can launch a devastating attack on Washington, D.C. …

For years CIA officer Sam Hudson has been hunting Konstantin, a Russian deep cover operative responsible for a string of assassinations in the West—and he believes a well-placed source in Geneva can finally get him close to the killer. But when their meeting is ambushed, Sam’s partner is murdered and he barely makes it out alive himself.

Back in the States, the bosses put him on leave and want him to drop his obsession with Konstantin, but Sam can’t let a man who’s taken so many lives slip away again. When he gets a mysterious call at the Lincoln Memorial just before a bomb goes off, he realizes Konstantin has followed him to the U.S. — and is targeting him and everyone close to him. Teaming up with fellow CIA officer Emily Pierce, he sets out to redeem himself and uncover a plot that has been lying in wait since the end of the Cold War, its elements hidden among the most iconic buildings in the capital.

With enemies lurking both inside and outside the Agency and the Russian threat looming ever larger, Sam must use all his training and nerve to stop Konstantin before he can trigger the plot to devastate Washington and bring the U.S. to its knees.

I’ve been a fan of Matthew Quirk’s fast-paced thrillers ever since his debut, The 500 — which I read in one sitting, deep into the night. Each of his novels since has been equally gripping and action-packed. In Red Warning, he offers another action-packed thriller, but one that dials back the pacing just a little bit — which makes for a more substantial read. I really enjoyed this. Continue reading

Books on Film: THE GRAY MAN by Mark Greaney

This past week, Netflix dropped the movie adaptation of Mark Greaney‘s The Gray Man. The movie is based on the first book in the action/thriller/espionage series — one that I have been very eager to try (yet have inexplicably not yet got around to, despite owning the first handful of novels). Time permitting, I hope to get to the movie this week. Here’s the book’s synopsis:

GreaneyM-GM1-GrayManUS_TieInTo those who lurk in the shadows, he’s known as the Gray Man. He is a legend in the covert realm, moving silently from job to job, accomplishing the impossible and then fading away. And he always hits his target. Always.

But there are forces more lethal than Gentry in the world. Forces like money. And power. And there are men who hold these as the only currency worth fighting for. And in their eyes, Gentry has just outlived his usefulness.

But Court Gentry is going to prove that, for him, there’s no gray area between killing for a living and killing to stay alive…

Directed by the Russo Brothers, and starring Ryan Gosling (as “Six”), Chris Evans (“Lloyd Hansen”), Ana de Armas (Dani Miranda), and Billy Bob Thornton (“Fitzroy”), it’s up on Netflix now!

Mark Greaney’s The Gray Man is out now, published by Berkley in North America and Sphere in the UK.

Also on CR: Interview with Mark Greaney (2019); Excerpt from One Minute Out

The Gray Man IMDb
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Upcoming: BLACK WOLF by Kathleen Kent (Mulholland/Head of Zeus)

KentK-BlackWolfUSHCNext year, there will be a new, stand-alone (thus far) espionage thriller from Kathleen Kent, the author of the excellent Detective Betty Rhyzyk series. Black Wolf sounds really interesting: an espionage thriller set during the final years of the Cold War thriller, it stars a CIA agent with a particular and peculiar skill: she is a “super recognizer”. Here’s the synopsis:

A new spy thriller about a female CIA agent whose extraordinary powers of facial recognition lead her into the dangerous heart of the Soviet Union — and the path of a killer that shouldn’t exist.

It is 1990 when Melvina Donleavy arrives in Soviet Belarus on her first undercover mission with the CIA, alongside three fellow agents — none of whom know she is playing two roles. To the prying eyes of the KGB, she is merely a secretary; to her CIA minders, she is the only one who can stop the flow of nuclear weapons from the crumbling Soviet Union into the Middle East.

For Mel has a secret; she is a “super recognizer,” someone who never forgets a face. But no training could prepare her for the reality of life undercover, and for the streets of Minsk, where women have been disappearing. Soviet law enforcement is firm: murder is a capitalist disease. But could a serial killer be at work? Especially if he knew no one was watching? As Mel searches for answers, she catches the eye of an entirely different kind of threat: the elusive and petrifying “Black Wolf,” head of the KGB.

Filled with insider details from the author’s own time working under the direction of the U.S. Department of Defense, Black Wolf is a riveting new spy thriller from an Edgar-nominated crime writer, and a biting exploration of the divide between two nations, two masterminds, and two roles played by a woman pushed to her breaking point, where she’ll learn that you can only ever trust one person: yourself.

Kathleen Kent’s Black Wolf is due to be published by Mulholland Books in North America (February 14th) and Head of Zeus/Aries in the UK (February 16th).

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Upcoming: RED LONDON by Alma Katsu (G.P. Putnam’s Sons)

KatsuA-RW2-RedLondonUSHCAlma Katsu‘s Red Widow is one of my favourite thrillers from last year, so when I saw that its sequel, Red London was on the way, I immediately added it to my Must Read list. Given Katsu’s background actually working for CIA, it’s a series that readers can be confident has plenty of verisimilitude. Also, because Katsu’s an excellent author, Red Widow was a gripping story, populated by engaging and well-drawn characters. I have no doubt that Red London will provide more of the same. Here’s the synopsis:

CIA agent Lyndsey Duncan has a new asset to turn, in order to prevent the most calculated global invasion of our time. But will their blossoming friendship get in the way?

After an explosive takedown of a well-placed mole within the CIA, agent Lyndsey Duncan has been tasked with keeping tabs on her newest Russian asset, deadly war criminal Dmitri Tarasenko. She arrives in London fully focused on the assignment at hand, until her MI6 counterpart, Davis Ranford, the very person responsible for ending her last mission overseas after they were caught in a whirlwind affair, personally calls for her.

After a suspicious attack on a powerful Russian oligarch’s property on Billionaires’ Row in the toniest neighborhood in London, Davis needs Lyndsey to cozy up to the billionaire’s aristocratic British wife, Emily Rotenberg. Lyndsey’s job is to obtain any and all information related to Emily’s husband, Mikhail Rotenberg, and his relationship with the new Russian president, whom CIA and MI6 believe is responsible for the sudden mysterious disappearance of his predecessor, the Hard Man. Fortunately for Lyndsey, there’s little to dissuade Emily from taking in a much-needed confidante. After all, misery needs company.

But before Lyndsey can cover much ground with her newfound friend, the CIA unveils a perturbing connection between Mikhail and Russia’s geopolitical past, one that could dangerously upend the world order as we know it. As the pressure to turn Emily becomes higher than ever, Lyndsey must walk a fine and ever-changing line to keep the oligarch’s fortune from falling into Russian hands and plunging the world into a new, disastrous geopolitical reality.

Red London is a nuanced, race-against-the-clock story that at times feels eerily set against today’s headlines, a testament to author Alma Katsu’s 30-plus career in national security. It’s a rare spy novel written by an insider that feels as prescient as it is page-turning and utterly unforgettable.

Alma Katsu’s Red London is due to be published by G. P. Putnam’s Sons in North America and in the UK, on March 14th, 2023.

Also on CR: Interview with Alma Katsu (2013); Review of Red Widow

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Excerpt: DECEMBER ’41 by William Martin (Forge Books)

MartinW-December41USHCToday, we have an excerpt from December ’41, the new historical thriller from William Martin. Perhaps best known for his Peter Fallon mystery series (Back Bay, etc.), in his latest novel he turns his pen towards World War II and the hunt for an assassin hoping to turn the tide of the war. Really looking forward to reading this. Check out the synopsis:

A WWII thriller as intense as The Day of the Jackal and as gripping as The Eye of the Needle. In December ’41, Martin takes us on the ultimate manhunt, a desperate chase from Los Angeles to Washington, D. C., in the first weeks of the Second World War.

On the day after Pearl Harbor, shocked Americans gather around their radios to hear Franklin Roosevelt declare war. In Los Angeles, a German agent named Martin Browning is planning to kill FDR on the night he lights the National Christmas Tree. Who will stop him? Relentless FBI Agent Frank Carter? Kevin Cusack, a Hollywood script reader who also spies on the German Bund of Los Angeles, and becomes a suspect himself? Or Vivian Hopewell, the aspiring actress who signs on to play Martin Browning’s wife and cannot help but fall in love with him?

The clock is ticking. The tracks are laid. The train of narrow escapes, mistaken identities, and shocking deaths is right on schedule. It’s a thrilling ride that will sweep you from the back lots of Hollywood to the speeding Super Chief to that solemn Christmas Eve, when twenty thousand people gather on the South Lawn of the White House and the lives of Franklin Roosevelt and his surprise guest, Winston Churchill, hang in the balance.

Now, read on for an excerpt from the novel…

Continue reading

Quick Review: JUDAS 62 by Charles Cumming (Harper)

CummingC-2-Judas62UKHCThe (excellent) second Lachlan Kite novel

A spy in one of the most dangerous places on Earth…

1993: Student Lachlan Kite is sent to post-Soviet Russia in the guise of a language teacher. In reality, he is there as a spy. Top secret intelligence agency BOX 88 has ordered Kite to extract a chemical weapons scientist before his groundbreaking research falls into the wrong hands. But Kite’s mission soon goes wrong and he is left stranded in a hostile city with a former KGB officer on his trail.

An old enemy looking for revenge…

2020: Now the director of BOX 88 operations in the UK, Kite discovers he has been placed on the ‘JUDAS’ list – a record of enemies of Russia who have been targeted for assassination. Kite’s fight for survival takes him to Dubai, where he must confront the Russian secret state head on…

Who will come out on top in this deadly game of cat and mouse?

The announcement of this novel was a very nice surprise — it arrived much sooner than expected after the release of the first book, BOX 88. A long-time fan of Cumming’s novels, I eagerly sought out a review copy and was lucky enough to get my mitts on one. I’m happy to report that it lived up to my high expectations. Another excellent novel from a modern master of spy fiction. Continue reading

Quick Review: IN THE COMPANY OF KILLERS by Bryan Christy (G.P. Putnam’s Sons)

ChristyB-InTheCompanyOfKillersUSIn geopolitics and international crime, everything is connected…

Tom Klay, an investigative reporter leading a double life as a CIA spy, discovers that he has been weaponized in a global game of espionage pitting him against one of the world’s most ruthless men.

Tom Klay is a celebrated investigative wildlife reporter for the esteemed magazine The Sovereign. But Klay is not just a journalist. His reporting is cover for an even more dangerous job: CIA agent. Klay’s press credentials make him a perfect spy — able to travel the globe, engage both politicians and warlords, and openly record what he sees. When he needs help, the Agency provides it to him, and asks little in return. But while on assignment in Kenya, Klay is attacked and his closest friend is murdered. Soon Klay’s carefully constructed double life unravels as his ambition turns to revenge.

The CIA has an answer. Klay is offered a devil’s bargain to capture the man who killed his friend by infiltrating the offices of the woman he once loved, South Africa’s special prosecutor, Hungry Khoza. But Klay soon discovers that he and Hungry are part of a larger, more lethal game — one that involves a ruthless mercenary and a global superpower. The deeper he digs, the more Klay realizes that everything he thought he knew about his work may have been a lie, and his sworn enemy may be his only ally. In this riveting, timely thriller, the lines between good and evil blur, and absolutely nothing is as it seems.

I’m always on the look-out for new international thrillers, so when I first spotted Bryan Christy’s In The Company of Killers in the publisher’s catalogue, the synopsis caught my attention. Christy’s done a very good job of drawing on his own experiences working for National Geographic, and blending it with an engaging and enjoyable espionage story — one that brings in many contemporary international and domestic political issues. I enjoyed this. Continue reading

Quick Review: RED WIDOW by Alma Katsu (G.P. Putnam’s Sons)

When you work in a building of smoke & mirrors, everyone and everything should be questioned…

The story of two women CIA agents whose paths become intertwined around a threat to the Russia Division – one that’s coming from inside the agency.

Lyndsey Duncan worries her career with the CIA might be over. After lines are crossed with another intelligence agent during an assignment, she is sent home to Washington on administrative leave. So when a former colleague — now Chief of the Russia Division — recruits her for an internal investigation, she jumps at the chance to prove herself. Lyndsey was once a top handler in the Moscow Field Station, where she was known as the “human lie detector” and praised for recruiting some of the most senior Russian officials. But now, three Russian assets have been exposed — including one of her own — and the CIA is convinced there’s a mole in the department. With years of work in question and lives on the line, Lyndsey is thrown back into life at the agency, this time tracing the steps of those closest to her.

Meanwhile, fellow agent Theresa Warner can’t avoid the spotlight. She is the infamous “Red Widow,” the wife of a former director killed in the field under mysterious circumstances. With her husband’s legacy shadowing her every move, Theresa is a fixture of the Russia Division, and as she and Lyndsey strike up an unusual friendship, her knowledge proves invaluable. But as Lyndsey uncovers a surprising connection to Theresa that could answer all of her questions, she unearths a terrifying web of secrets within the department, if only she is willing to unravel it…

I haven’t read all of Katsu’s previous works, but as a long-time lover for espionage fiction, I knew I had to read this as soon as I could. I’m very glad to report that it is an engaging, twisty espionage novel set in the halls of Langley and D.C. I enjoyed this a lot. Continue reading

Upcoming: THE PRINCESS SPY by Larry Loftis (Atria)

LoftisL-PrincessSpyUSI spotted this in a Washington Post article, “What to read in 2021 based on what you loved in 2020” (which has some interesting suggestions, in general). I recently picked up Ben MacIntyre’s Agent Sonya, a book about Ursula Kuczynski Burton, a Russian “spymaster, saboteur, bomb-maker and secret agent”. In the aforementioned WaPo article, Angela Haupt recommends The Princess Spy by Larry Loftis as a comparable 2021 release. After reading the synopsis, I’m intrigued:

A hidden history of an ordinary American girl who became one of the OSS’s most daring spies in World War II before marrying into European nobility…

When Aline Griffith was born in a quiet suburban New York hamlet, no one had any idea that she would go on to live “a life of glamour and danger that Ingrid Bergman only played at in Notorious” (Time). As the US enters the Second World War, the young college graduate is desperate to aid in the war effort, but no one is interested in a bright-eyed young woman whose only career experience is modeling clothes.

Aline’s life changes when, at a dinner party, she meets a man named Frank Ryan and reveals how desperately she wants to do her part for her country. Within a few weeks, he helps her join the Office of Strategic Services — forerunner of the CIA. With a code name and expert training under her belt, she is sent to Spain to be a coder, but is soon given the additional assignment of infiltrating the upper echelons of society, mingling with high-ranking officials, diplomats, and titled Europeans, any of whom could be an enemy agent. Against this glamorous backdrop of galas and dinner parties, she recruits sub-agents and engages in deep-cover espionage to counter Nazi tactics in Madrid.

Even after marrying the Count of Romanones, one of the wealthiest men in Spain, Aline secretly continues her covert activities, being given special assignments when abroad that would benefit from her impeccable pedigree and social connections.

Filled with twists, romance, and plenty of white-knuckled adventures fit for a James Bond film, The Princess Spy brings to vivid life the dazzling adventures of a remarkable American woman who risked everything to serve her country.

Larry Loftis’s The Princess Spy is due to be published by Atria Books in North America and in the UK, on February 9th, 2021.

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Upcoming: ASCENSION by Oliver Harris (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt/Little, Brown)

HarrisO-2-AscensionUSA couple of years ago, Oliver Harris introduced readers to his new protagonist, British spy Elliot Kane, in A Shadow Intelligence. This year, Kane returns in Ascension, which sees the agent pulled into a mystery surrounding the death of a close friend. Here’s the synopsis:

British spy Elliot Kane is forced out of semi-retirement to investigate a colleague’s suspicious death on Ascension Island, a remote and rocky outpost of the British military in the middle of the Atlantic.

Despite uncovering a deep plot to incite a new world war, Elliot Kane has been on probation with the service since his misadventures in Kazakhstan. Having taken up a job teaching college literature and linguistics, he surprisingly enjoys living a conventional life and wonders if he would even go back to spycraft. Then a colleague from an ages-ago mission reaches out with a request. One of her tech specialists was on a long-term mission, in deep cover, but has suddenly killed himself. The agency is afraid to finish this vital mission without knowing what prompted this seemingly healthy man to take his own life. The carrot in this offer is helping his old friend; the stick is a worse punishment from the Agency if he doesn’t comply. So Elliott poses as an academic researcher and heads to one of the most remote places on the planet, Ascension Island. 

Arriving on a rocky, barely livable island located in the Atlantic Ocean, halfway between Brazil and Angola, Kane is unsure whom to trust and why this lonely outpost is so important to the British military… until he uncovers dangerous secrets that lead straight back to London’s highest offices.

Oliver Harris’s Ascension is due to be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in North America (July 13th) and Little, Brown in the UK (July 1st).

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