Tag Archives: CIA

Tinker Tailor

writer sailor

Writer, Sailor, Soldier, Spy: Ernest Hemingway’s Secret Adventures, 1935-1961 by Nicholas Reynolds (William Morrow, $27.99, 384 pages)

Writer, Sailor, Soldier, Spy by Nicholas Reynolds chronicles Ernest Hemingway’s time as a spy and his involvement in politics on the world stage during the years 1935 through 1961.

As to credibility, Reynolds was a Marine for 30 years, worked for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and eventually became the curator of the CIA Museum.  He references 107 primary sources and each chapter is replete with citations to support his claims.

While Writer, Sailor is almost certainly factually accurate, I am not certain this book entirely succeeds.

The book chronicles some aspects of Hemingway’s personal life such as his downward spiral into depression, his four wives, and his extremely excessive alcohol intake; though this is not news, nor is it the main point.  Reynolds also tries to tie some of Hemingway’s writing to his wartime experiences, particularly with For Whom the Bell Tolls and his time in Spain during the Spanish Civil War, and then his final book, The Old Man and the Sea.  He also name drops quite a bit.  For example, correspondence with Archibald MacLeish and his friendship with John Dos Passos are frequently referenced.  The book tells of Hemingway’s love of Cuba and briefly alludes to some interactions with Batista and Castro.  But, again, there is not much new ground covered here.

What would be considered new ground for most is Hemingway’s dalliance with the Soviet NKVD, the precursor to the KGB, and involvement with the American OSS, the predecessor of the CIA.  Hemingway was not a Communist, and perhaps not even a Socialist, but he hated Fascism and during the 1930s was disappointed in America’s lack of resolve to fight against it.  He was particularly upset with the Pearl Harbor attack, which he believed was due to complete negligence on the part of the American government.

Hemingway’s travels during this time are discussed.  How he managed to get around on both official and personal business is interesting at times.  One of the most interesting stories is the chapter on Pilar, Hemingway’s cabin cruiser, and its role as a spy ship in 1942 and 1943.  This would prove to be the most significant of Hemingway’s wartime adventures.

writer, sailor, soldier, spy back cover

Most Hemingway buffs and literary scholars would find nothing of interest in this work.  But while it succeeds in chronicling his adventures – and there are some interesting tidbits to be gleaned among the way, the truth is that Hemingway’s involvement as a spy did not seem to lead to any major intelligence that impacted the outcome of the war – or particular battles – in any way.  If so, it was not evident in the pages of this book.

Recommended, with the reservation that the book seems to promise more than it delivers.

Dave Moyer.

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

Dave Moyer is a public school district superintendent and is the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel.

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Black Is Black

Wendell Black, MD (nook book)

Wendell Black, MD: A Novel by Gerald Imber (Bourbon Street Books, $14.99, 412 pages)

Fans of medical-themed stories will be happy to find this one written by famed plastic surgeon Gerald Imber. Dr. Wendell Black, the central character, narrates an often-dark and sinister tale. Black is a New York City police surgeon. His credentials allow him access to crime scenes even though he’s not a sworn officer who carries a weapon.

Circumstances that seem quite ordinary place Black at the center of an international crime syndicate. His first encounter with the mayhem created by the criminals occurs on a flight to New York. A call over the public address system for a doctor on board to provide assistance brings Black to the side of an ailing passenger.

The story centers on the theme of connections, mostly centered around human friendships. The in-flight medical emergency becomes more than a one-time event. Black seeks out the help of a Central Intelligence Agency staffer who’s well placed in the organization when he realizes there’s trouble that far exceeds Black’s problem solving capabilities.

Imber provides the reader with just enough medical information to be plausible but not in an egotistical and heavy-handed way like one finds in the Kay Scarpetta novels. In this post-9/11 era tale, an awareness of terror threats forms a basic thread in the plot’s fabric.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

“Imber’s debut is a fast-paced thriller with plenty of twists.” Booklist

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Twist and Shout

The Expats

The Expats: A Novel by Chris Pavone (Broadway, $15.00, 352 pages)

The Expats by editor-turned-novelist Chris Pavone has all the twists and turns of a Robert Ludlum or Clive Cussler action-thriller, plus a domestic element that sets it apart from the pack: it plays the layers of duplicity in Kate and Dexter Moore’s professional lives against the secrets they guard from each other in their marriage.

Kate is a spy and a young mom – a smart, self-consciously attractive, nominally maternal, thirty-something who leaves a CIA career to stay home with the kids when Dexter lands a lucrative banking security job in Luxembourg. But nothing and no one in The Expats is as advertised. Kate’s nagging questions about her husband’s fundamental character spur her to investigate when she senses threatening intentions in a friendly American couple they meet in the ex-pat community in Luxembourg.

Don’t read it for shimmering imagery or deeply conflicted characters. It isn’t that kind of book. Kate is Jason Bourne in a skirt. She can remove herself from the Company, but she can’t squash the instincts that made her a hired gun. The Expats is a set of spiraling secrets, the exposition of which is played out in lushly detailed European cities.

In a Publishers Weekly interview in 2012, Chris Pavone said, “A detailed map of the story line was what made it possible to write such a labyrinthe book…” – in addition to a numbered list of twists and turns. Action thriller fans will love this one. Well recommended.

Kimberly Caldwell

A review copy was provided by the publisher. The Expats was released in a trade paper version on January 22, 2013. “Brilliant, insanely clever, and delectably readable.” Library Journal

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Here Comes the Night

Full Black: A Thriller by Brad Thor (Pocket Books, $15.00, 379 pages)

If Barry Goldwater were alive today, he might well identify Brad Thor as his favorite author.   For it was Goldwater who said, “Extremism in the pursuit of liberty is no vice.   And moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.”   Thor’s action-thriller protagonist, Scott Harvath, lives by these words; Harvath’s a former Navy Seal Team 6 member who’s now a covert counterterrorism operative for a CIA contractor.   Harvath does not wear kid gloves to work.   He often goes “full black” – meaning that his undercover missions officially do not exist.   He not only hunts down and kills terrorists, he maims and tortures them to get the information he  needs, and may kill them after promising to spare their lives.

There are no shades of grey in agent Harvath’s world and there’s more than a touch of paranoia:

“The only way to disrupt the enemy, and beat them so far back that they couldn’t attack, was to relentlessly hunt them down like the animals they were and unceasingly take the fight to them.   That meant the gloves were off.   It also meant that certain operations had to be kept secret from grandstanding politicians…”

As Full Black opens, there’s been a deadly home invasion – seemingly involving former Russian secret policemen – at the residence of a Hollywood documentary producer.   This does not seem like a major development but interest on the part of the media builds when the producer suddenly disappears.   And the company that Harvarth works for sees this as the signal preceding a major terrorist attack – the largest since 9/11 – financed by a billionaire who hates the U.S.

“If we began hanging traitors, we’d lose a good many of our politicians, business and union leaders…”

Harvath is sent to Los Angeles to begin unraveling the mystery of the home invasion which he views as beyond the capabilities of the LAPD to solve.   He’s got several resources on his side, including a computer genius and a highly-experienced mentor, but it’s hard to separate the good guys from the bad in Harvath’s world.   For Harvath, paranoia equals a very principled loyalty to the U.S., and he believes that the means are always justified by the end.

“…at some point in the last seventy-or-so years, the political class had become completely disconnected from reality…”

On its face, this may sound like Kill Shot by Vince Flynn and Red Cell by Mark Henshaw, but unlike those espionage thrillers, Full Black does not start out in overdrive.   Thor takes his time building interest in the story, making sure the reader’s fully invested in the tale before building speed.   Once Thor shifts into second, third, four, and fifth gear, you’ll see why his books are found in bookstores, airports and your local grocery store.   His writing style might occasionally be over the top, but as Mitt Romney might say, “You can’t argue with success.”

The end of Full Black is actually the beginning of Thor’s next thriller.   Get ready to put that one on your nightstand.

Well recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   Black List: A Thriller by Brad Thor will be released by Atria Books on July 24, 2012.

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Secret Agent Man

Kill Shot: An American Assassin Thriller by Vince Flynn (Emily Bestler Books/Atria, $27.99, 385 pages)

Stanfield had always understood the risk of ordering a talented, highly motivated man to kill for his country.   The cold, detached killers were easier to predict.   Rapp, though, was far from dispassionate about his job.   He couldn’t kill these men fast enough.   It was his hatred for terrorists that drove him to kill with such efficiency.

Mitch Rapp is this country’s most dangerous secret weapon, at least when it comes to the world’s terrorists.   Rapp has a list of terrorists and he’s authorized to kill them all, one by one, with a single shot to the head.   Rapp is such a fearful killing machine that even within the covert walls of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), he’s “off the books.”   (Rapp makes both Jason Bourne and James Bond look like caffeine-free figures.)

Rapp, you see, has a score to settle with the bad guys.   His girlfriend of years ago was aboard an airplane that was bombed out of the sky by a Libyan terrorist, and once Rapp has assumed his role of The American Assassin, he finds its his life’s calling.   But his bosses at The Company are afraid that he’s eventually going to have a slip and if he does – since officially he doesn’t exist – they will have to make sure that he’s terminated.

As the story opens, Rapp is headed to Paris to kill a terrorist staying in a posh hotel suite.   It appears that this is going to be a very easy kill – except that no one on the CIA’s advance team has bothered to tell Rapp that there’s a group of four heavily armed killers waiting for him in the adjacent room.   They’ve got 90 or so bullet rounds with Rapp’s name on them…  Has Mitch been set up by his own spooks – jealous of his sudden success – or is someone else working with the bad guys?

How would (Rapp) react if he was pulled in and shut down?   Not well, was Stansfield’s guess.   How would he react if he found out that someone at Langley was selling their secrets to their enemies?   By definition, that individual would be a traitor, and Stansfield had little doubt what Rapp would want to do to such a person.

Flynn writes quite knowingly and convincingly about the world of spies.   To his credit, he populates the tale with strong men – and with women who are just as strong, talented and cagey as their male counterparts.   Rapp has a love interest which gives the telling some breathing room between killings, and the love/sex scenes are tastefully done.   Finally, Flynn presents us with Stansfield Turner, a real-life CIA legend who appears “as himself” in these pages.

At the conclusion of Kill Shot, secret agent Rapp has learned a lot about his true friends and enemies; something that surprises this hardened assassin.   As the story concludes, a new partnership has been formed, and readers will anxiously await the next overtly-exciting chapter in The American Assassin series.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   Kill Shot was released in February of this year.

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Coming Up Next…

A review of Kill Shot: An American Assassin Thriller by Vince Flynn.

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Deacon Blues

Red Cell: A Novel by Mark Henshaw (Touchstone, $24.99, 336 pages)

The president of Taiwan orders the arrest of a set of spies from China, and China retaliates with a military attack.   As the U. S. moves battleships into the war area, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) learns that its top mole within China, “Pioneer”, has been uncovered; and that the president of China is ready to go to war with America.   It seems that the Red Chinese have a secret weapon known only by the code name The Assassin’s Mace.

With the prospect of a war to end all wars on the horizon, The Company turns to Kyra Stryker, a young Jason Bourne-like agent who barely survived her prior mission in Venezuela.   Now she’s called upon to not only rescue Pioneer, but to also – as a member of the select Red Cell think tank, find and destroy The Assassin’s Mace.   Nothing less than the future of the Free World rests in her hands.

Mark Henshaw has written an espionage thriller that can stand beside the very best of its genre.   A former, highly-decorated CIA analyst and member of the Red Cell, Henshaw takes us deep within the world of spies, from Virginia to South America and Asia.   This one will make a great film, and every young actress in Hollywood will vie for the role of Kyra Stryker!

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   Red Cell was released on May 1, 2012 and is also available as a Kindle Edition and Nook Book download.

 

 

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