Tag Archives: spy thriller

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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A Book I Want to Read

Jack 1939: A Novel by Francine Mathews is a book that will be released in just a few weeks by Riverhead Hardcover Books.   Here are a couple of blurbs about this tale of a young John Kennedy, and a synopsis.

“Jack 1939 is a marvel – a brilliantly conceived, riveting tightrope race across Europe in the predawn war of World War II.”   Stephen White

“Jack 1939 is a triumph: an exciting thriller, an intriguing exploration of a troubled time, and an absorbing take on the early history of one of America’s most iconic figures.   Highly recommended.”   Iain Pears

Charming.   Reckless.   Brilliant.   Deadly.

It’s the spring of 1939, and the prospect of war in Europe looms large.   The United States has no intelligence service.   In Washington, D.C., President Franklin Delano Roosevelt may run for an unprecedented third term and needs someone he can trust to find out what the Nazis are up to.   His choice:  John F. Kennedy.

It’s a surprising selection.   At twenty-two, Jack Kennedy is the attractive but somewhat unpromising second son of Joseph P. Kennedy, FDR’s ambassador to Britain (and occasional political adversary).   But when Jack decides to travel through Europe to gather research for his Harvard senior thesis, Roosevelt takes the opportunity to use him as his personal spy.   The president’s goal: to stop the flow of German money that’s been flooding the U.S.; money directed by Adolf Hitler for the purpose of preventing FDR’s re-election.

In a deft mosaic of fact and fiction, Francine Mathews has written a gripping espionage story that explores what might have happened when a young JFK is let loose in Europe as the world spins rapidly toward war.   Jack 1939 is both a potent combination of history and storytelling, and a unique, entertaining read.

Jack 1939: A Novel will be released on July 5, 2012.   It will also be available as a Kindle Edition and Nook Book download.   (Information provided by The Penguin Group, USA.)

Joseph Arellano

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Secret Agent Woman

Intelligence: A Novel of the CIA by Susan Hasler (Thomas Dunne Books, $24.99, 308 pages)

“I can’t decide which is worse:  the lucid dreams or the muddled reality.   I have no one to blame but myself…  I hate, hate, hate going to sleep at night.”

Former CIA analyst Susan Hasler’s debut novel could easily be classified as an autobiography.   Hasler’s psychological exploration of the major, read that sympathetic, characters moves this tale into novel status.   The plotline is so believable that readers will buy into it quickly.   Lead character Maddie James uses her years of experience as an analyst at the Mines (the CIA) and her chilling dreams of impending doom to identify what she believes to be a genuine imminent threat to safety within the U.S. 

The game of cat and mouse between the analysts and the terror threat is afoot once Maddie wheedles her boss into allowing an ad hoc group of specialists in the Mines to work together to address Maddie’s concerns.   There is no need for a spoiler alert in this review as the novel is not a mystery.   What is a mystery is the way that legions of upper management in state and federal government choose to disregard the findings of capable, well-informed line staff in favor of the politician-pleasing actions that all too often lead to disaster.

“The President doesn’t want to hear this.”

The story is peppered with government acronyms and filled with revelations of how far off public perceptions are from actual intelligence work.   It’s no small wonder that more blunders and misses are not made given the pressure to please the folks up the chain of command that’s brought to bear on analytical staff.   The analysts are badgered into following the party line rather than reporting on what is revealed.

As a former government research analyst, this reviewer felt vindicated by the thoughts and actions of the Mines ad hoc group of anti-terrorists mustered by Maddie as they race against an imagined deadline to thwart an attack on a civilian target of significant size.

Highly recommended.

This review was written by Ruta Arellano.   A review copy was provided by the publisher (Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press).

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