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.

Follow the Author: Website, Goodreads, Twitter

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).

Follow the Author: Website, Goodreads, Twitter

Upcoming: CITY ON THE EDGE by David Swinson (Mulholland)

SwinsonD-CityOnTheEdgeUSDavid Swinson is at the author of the superb Frank Marr trilogy, set in Washington, DC — if you’re looking for a great crime story, starring a complicated cop protagonist, then I highly recommend you pick up The Second Girl.

For his highly-anticipated next novel, City on the Edge, he takes readers to Beirut, and introduces us to a new protagonist. Here’s the synopsis:

In the wake of a baffling tragedy, 13-year-old Graham moves with his family to Beirut, Lebanon, a city on the edge of the sea and cataclysmic violence. Inquisitive and restless by nature, Graham suspects his State Department father is a CIA operative, and that their family’s fragile domesticity is merely a front for American efforts along the nearby Israeli border. Over the course of one year, 1974, Graham’s life will utterly change. Two men are murdered, his parent’s marriage disintegrates, and Graham, along with his two ex-pat friends, run afoul of forces they cannot understand.

THE CITY ON THE EDGE is elegiac, atmospheric, and utterly authentic. It’s the story of innocents caught within the American net of espionage, of the Lebanese transformed by such interference, of the children who ran dangerously beside the churning wheel of history. One part Stephen King’s “The Body” and another John le Carre’s A Perfect Spy, it’s a transformative crime story told with heart and genuine experience.

David Swinson’s City on the Edge is due to be published by Mulholland Books in North America and in the UK, on May 25th, 2021.

Follow the Author: Website, Goodreads, Twitter

Quick Review: BOX 88 by Charles Cumming (Harper)

CummingC-Box88An excellent espionage thriller

An organisation that doesn’t exist.

A spy that can’t be caught.

Years ago, a spy was born…

1989: The Cold War will soon be over, but for BOX 88, a top secret spying agency, the espionage game is heating up. Lachlan Kite, recruited from an elite boarding school, is sent to France, tasked with gathering intelligence on an enigmatic Iranian businessman implicated in the Lockerbie bombing. But what Kite uncovers is more terrifying than anyone expected…

Now he faces the deadliest decision of his life…

2020: MI5 hear rumours of BOX 88’s existence and go after Kite – but Iranian intelligence have got to him first. Taken captive and brutally tortured, Kite has a choice: reveal the truth about what happened in France thirty years earlier – or watch his family die.

In a battle unlike anything he has faced before, Kite must use all his skills to stay alive.

Long time readers of CR will know that I am a big fan of Charles Cumming’s spy thrillers. Ever since Typhoon, I’ve eagerly anticipated each new novel from the author. Box 88 was no different, and I’m very happy to report that it lived up to my high expectations. Really enjoyed this. Continue reading

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

KatsuA-RedWidowUSSpotted this on Edelweiss. After making quite a splash with The Deep, a supernatural suspense novel about the Titanic, Alma Katsu‘s next novel takes on the espionage genre. In addition to the eye-catching cover, Katsu’s latest novel has an intriguing premise — the mole in the spy agency sub-genre has always been interesting to me, so this is high on my must-read list. It looks like it could appeal to readers of Karen Cleveland (Need to Know and Keep You Close), John le Carré, Jason Matthews (the Red Sparrow trilogy), and thriller/mystery readers in general. Here’s the synopsis for Red Widow:

An exhilarating spy thriller about two women CIA agents who 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 her most recent 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 once more. Lyndsey was once a top handler in the Moscow Field Station, known as the “human lie detector” and praised for recruiting some of the most senior Russian officials. But now, three Russian assets have been discovered — 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, only 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 exposes a terrifying web of secrets within the department, if only she is willing to unravel it…

Alma Katsu’s Red Widow is due to be published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons in North America and in the UK, on March 23rd, 2021. Looking forward to reading it!

Follow the Author: Website, Goodreads, Twitter

Upcoming: BOX 88 by Charles Cumming (Harper Collins)

CummingC-BoxUKUKI started reading Charles Cumming‘s novels back in 2009, when Typhoon was released. Since then, each new novel of his has been a must-read of the given year — and I have thus-far never been disappointed. This October, he has a new novel out — Box 88 — with a new protagonist and an intriguing premise:

An organisation that doesn’t exist.

A spy that can’t be caught.

1989: The fall of the Berlin Wall is imminent and the Cold War will soon be over. But for BOX 88, a top secret spying agency known only to an inner circle of MI6 and CIA operatives, the espionage game is heating up.

Lachlan Kite, recruited straight from an elite boarding school, is sent to France – the frontline of a new secret war. Kite is tasked with gathering intelligence on a mysterious Iranian businessman implicated in the tragic Lockerbie bombing. But what he uncovers is even more deadly…

2020: MI5 hear rumours of BOX 88’s existence and go after Kite – only for Iranian intelligence to get to him first.  Taken captive and subjected to torture, Kite is presented with a simple choice: reveal the truth about what happened in France thirty years earlier – or watch his family die.

Past and present merge, as MI5 and BOX 88 are caught up in a race against time to save Kite.

I learned about this novel when Damian Lewis (Billions, Band of Brothers, and many more) Tweeted about the cover reveal earlier today. Can’t wait to read this! Charles Cumming’s Box 88 is due to be published by Harper Collins in the UK, on October 1st, 2020. (Not sure about North American publisher/dates, but some of his recent novels have been published recently by St. Martin’s Press, so… maybe?)

Also on CR: Interview/Guest Post A Colder War Mole Hunt”; Reviews of Typhoon, The Trinity Six, A Foreign Country, A Colder War, and The Man Between

Follow the Author: Website, Goodreads, Twitter

Quick Review: LETHAL AGENT by Kyle Mills (Atria/Emily Bestler, Simon & Schuster UK)

MillsK-MR-LethalAgentUSHCMitch Rapp faces off against a dangerous modern terrorist with a vendetta…

An unprecedented and terrifying bioterrorism plot threatens to kill millions in the midst of a divisive presidential election…

A toxic presidential election is underway in an America already badly weakened by internal divisions. While politicians focus entirely on maintaining their own power and privilege, ISIS kidnaps a brilliant French microbiologist and forces him to begin manufacturing anthrax. Slickly produced videos chronicling his progress and threatening an imminent attack are posted to the Internet, intensifying the hysteria gripping the US.

ISIS recruits a Mexican drug cartel to smuggle the bioweapon across the border, but it’s really just a diversion. The terrorist organization needs to keep Mitch Rapp and Irene Kennedy distracted long enough to weaponize a deadly virus that they stumbled upon in Yemen. If they succeed, they’ll trigger a pandemic that could rewrite the world order.

Rapp embarks on a mission to infiltrate the Mexican cartels and track down the ISIS leader who he failed to kill during their last confrontation. But with Washington’s political elite increasingly lined up against him, he knows he’ll be on his own.

The 18th novel in the Mitch Rapp series, and the fifth written by Kyle Mills. The story picks up quite soon after the previous novel, and while it felt a little slower to get going than normal (usually I’m hooked within a page or two), Lethal Agent builds nicely: there’s politics, action, betrayal, and a pretty satisfying ending. As expected, I enjoyed this. Continue reading