Category Archives: espionage

Review of The Wooden King by Thomas McConnell

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A dark wartime tale showing the extraordinary lengths people go to protect those they love.

Set in Czechoslovakia, 1939, Viktor Trn has to decide resist the Nazi hold on his country or ride out the war hoping that he and his family survive.

I found this book hard to get into. Thomas McConnell’s prose is not initially easy to follow, but once you get into the swing the language he uses cleverly constructs images and ideas.

As the war progresses Trn has to make decisions that go against his beliefs, but ultimately he wants to protect his young son.

McConnell explores the quandary of how we would react under similar circumstances in understated way that illustrates the extraordinary lengths people go to protect those they love.

At times it’s very dark and does take you on a roller coaster as Trn navigates his way across the turmoil of invasion and occupation.

I received this book from the publisher, but was not required to write a positive review.

 

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Review of In the Enemy’s House: The Secret Saga of the FBI Agent and the Code Breaker Who Caught the Russian Spies by Howard Blum

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As good as any fictional spy thriller

Howard Blum tells the fascinating story the race to capture the Soviet spy ring that passed the secrets of the atom bomb to the Soviet Union. The main characters are codebreaker Meredith Gardner and FBI agent Bob Lamphere, and Blum details how Gardner cracked fragments of the key Soviet codes, with Lamphere piecing them together to capture the Soviet spies.

The book reads like a novel and at places I did question how much this was based on fact or the authors suppositions, but at the end of the book Blum does assure the reader that all conversations or thoughts in the characters heads are backed up by documentary evidence.

It’s a pacey read, and to use a cliché quite a page turner. Although I was aware of many of the characters such as Klaus Fuchs, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg Blum does provide rich character background that give more depth and insight than a dry analytical account of the process involved.

The book ends with the execution of the Rosenbergs which Lamphere and Gardner were unable to prevent without disclosing that the codes had been broken.

A fascinating account of the early days of espionage in the Cold War.

I was given a copy of this book by the publisher, but was not required to provide a positive review.

 

Review of A Divided Spy (Thomas Kell #3) by Charles Cumming

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Intelligent and well paced thriller

Kell is a former MI6 officer retired from the service and damaged by personal tragedy. In this book he’s tracking down a Russian agent he believes to be behind the murder of his girlfriend.

Now this might sound like the start of whizz bang all action thriller, but Charles Cumming’s style is much more thoughtful with rich depth to his characters and a slow burn. The story has loads of tradecraft detail for the espionage fan and Kell is a likeable and believable character.

I won’t giveaway the plot, but suffice to say there’s some twists and turns that keep your interest just when you think you ‘ve got the plotline sussed.

All in all an entertaining read that makes you want to read more of the Cummings canon.

I was given a copy of this book to review by the publisher, but wasn’t obliged to provide a positive review.

Review of The Honest Spy by Andreas Kollender, Steve Anderson

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Well written fictional account of relatively unknown WW2 spy.

Written by German author Andreas Kollender, this book is based on the life of Fritz Kolbe a member of the German Diplomatic Service during World War 2 who had access to top secret information. He provided this information to the Allies for ideological reasons and not for personal gain and smuggled hundreds of top-secret files to American intelligence from 1943 onwards, continuing undetected until the end of the war.

Allen Dulles, who became head of the CIA , but then an OSS officer in Switzerland said of Kolbe “No single diplomat abroad, of whatever rank, could have got his hands on so much information as did this man; he was one of my most valuable agents during World War II.”

Although based on Kolbe, the book doesn’t follow his personal life exactly and certainly creates a fiction that allow the author to portray more depth to the man in his personal life and struggles with his conscience.

The book is framed within a fictional post-war interview with a pair of journalists and starts with Kolbe in South Africa at the declaration of war which is interesting in itself, showing how German embassy and legation staff were treated upon the outbreak of war.

There’s good colour to the OSS station on Berne with some of the early career of Allen Dulles being illustrated as well as the contrasts between life in neutral Switzerland versus late war Germany.

Steve Anderson has translated this book from the German and he’s done a great job as the text flows well and moves along at a good pace. Whilst I’d not call it an absolute page turner, the author keeps the tension as the fear of capture and death increases with each day.

If I had to criticise anything it would have been the use of Kolbe’s real name alongside an obvious fiction. Although all history is subject to someone’s interpretation, I have mixed feelings around taking the name of a real person of honour and heroism and creating fiction around them, especially as a fictitious name appears to be used for Kolbe’s friend in Bern.

That being said, this was as entertaining read and a good insight into the quandaries and challenges that faced Kolbe during World War 2.

I was given a copy of this book by the publisher, but was not compelled to write a positive review.

Review of The Wall Between by Jesper Bugge Kold

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A gripping and moving story of the former East Germany.

Andreas lives in Copenhagen and receives a letter informing him that his father who he has never met has been stabbed to death in Berlin, and that he has inherited his flat. Keen to understand more about the father that his mother wouldn’t speak of he travels to Berlin to discover more.

Jesper Bugge Kold combines multiple timelines and characters to produce a brilliant story of the GDR, the Stasi and relationships. This book reminded somewhat of the film “Life of Others” and anyone who liked the film or is interested to the former East Germany should read this.

It’s tautly written but with some almost cinematic descriptions of Berlin. I found it an absolute page turner and read it within a day which is unusual for me.

Highly recommended.

I received this book free from Netgalley and was not required to write a positive review.

Review of ” Paris Spring” by James Naughtie

Thoughtful and fulfilling espionage novel

Set in 1968 Paris with the city on the brink of insurgency MI5 agent Will Flemyng is drawn into personal doubts over his brothers loyalty to his country following an encounter on the Metro.

James Naughtie’s novel is full of imagery of the time from smoke filled bars, burning barricades to dead letter drops in remote cemeteries. The characters are richly drawn and if you’ve seen the recent version of Tinker, Taylor, Soldier Spy you will recognise a certain personality that becomes a spook.

It’s a rich story of tested personal and national loyalties that is both thoughtful and exciting and I’d highly recommend to any fans of classic espionage novels.

Review of ” Operation Whisper: The Capture of Soviet Spies Morris and Lona Cohen” by Barnes Carr

A fascinating and well written true story of Cold War espionage.

Morris and Lona Cohen, an ordinary-seeming couple living in New York City in the 1950s, however they are a key part of a Soviet plan to steal the secrets of the atomic bomb. Betrayed by a defector they disappear from view only to re-appear as Peter and Helen Kroger antiquarian booksellers in London.

I’ve always been fascinated by the Cohens and have long awaited a book that details their story, especially their activities in England in what became known as the Portland Spy Case. Operation Whisper is the first to study in detail their “two lives” as Morris and Lona Cohen in America and Peter and Helen Kroger in England.

Barnes Carr doesn’t disappoint telling an exciting story of espionage sweeping from the East Coast of the US to the leafy confines of London’s suburbia. With details of the actual spycraft used (and misused) this is a must read for any cold war espionage fans.

Literary fans will be fascinated by the connection between the Cohens/Krogers and Frank Doel of 84 Charing Cross Road & The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street by Helene Hanff fame.

Whilst the writer is obviously not familiar with some of the UK place names he writes in a style that is easy to read and pacey making the book read more like a novel than fact.

Recommended.

I received this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.