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In the Mail: On Target

On Target (A Gray Man Novel) by Mark Greaney

Publishers Weekly

Disgraced former CIA agent Court “The Gray Man” Gentry (introduced in 2009’s The Gray Man) makes ends meet as an assassin working for clients he cannot trust. Russian arms merchant Sidorenko wants Court to kill Sudan’s President Abboud, arguably the man responsible for the genocide in Darfur. The CIA makes a counteroffer: kidnap Abboud and give him to American officials in exchange for amnesty. Court cannot refuse and treks through Sudan in pursuit of nebulous, ever-changing goals. Every element in this book is familiar, but Court is endearing in his perseverance even as his schemes are undermined by sympathetic victims, misleading information, outright lies, poor planning, betrayal, conflicting agendas, and simple bad luck. What could have been a storm of clichés becomes an action-filled yet touching story of a man whose reason has long ago been subsumed by his work ethic.

In the Mail: Red Star Rising

Red Star Rising: A Thriller by Brian Freemantle

Publishers Weekly

Last seen in 2002’s Kings of Many Castles, working-class British spy Charlie Muffin once again proves that experience and intelligence (on the part of both author and hero) are at least as important as flying fists and explosions in this entertaining entry in Freemantle’s long-running series. When a faceless body turns up on the grounds of the British Embassy in Moscow, Charlie’s superiors send him to Russia to solve the mystery: who’s the corpse and why was he left face down, or rather no face down, in the flower garden? Nothing is as it seems as the Russian authorities wrestle with the British over who has jurisdiction, whose agents are the bigger liars, and whose government is the most underhanded. Charlie isn’t much for action, gunplay, and excitement. In fact, his relationship with his Russian intelligence officer wife, Natalie, and daughter Sasha provides most of the overt suspense, but his slow fitting together of all the pieces related to the crime provides genuine interest.

In the Mail: Moscow Sting

Moscow Sting by Alex Dryden

Booklist

Dryden follows up his superb debut, Red to Black (2009), with a riveting sequel. British spy Finn, who uncovered a Russian plan to control Europe’s access to oil and natural gas, is dead, murdered by a KGB-trained Russian criminal. Anna, the beautiful KGB colonel assigned to seduce Finn, but who fell in love with him instead, is in hiding, raising her son, Little Finn. In the post-Bush era, both the U.S. and Britain have realized that Finn was right: Vladimir Putin is an enemy. Now they want Finn’s source, a Kremlin insider known only as Mikhail. MI6 also wants revenge for Finn’s murder. The Russians want Anna for her betrayal. Anna wants to shield Mikhail and keep herself and her son alive. Machinations by all the principals ensue, and Dryden, a longtime student of Russia and the world of intelligence, tosses a new player into the mix: Cougar, a private intelligence company run by Burt Miller, a former CIA spook extraordinaire. The larger-than-life Miller schemes against the CIA, MI6, the Russians, and Cougar’s corporate competitors to hold on to Anna and reel in Mikhail. Red to Black reinvigorated the classic Cold War espionage genre. Moscow Sting—with its clever, devious, conflicted characters; its tension and verisimilitude; and its complex but fully plausible plot—is every bit as good.

The American Spectator on The Breaking of Eggs

Over at The American Spectator Larry Thornberry reviews a book in my TBR pile: The Breaking of Eggs by Jim Powell:

This impressive first novel is part coming of age story and part spy story, with a primer on 20th century European history thrown in. History at the most personal, small-picture level. It’s also about redemption, second chances, and what home means.

The Nearest Exit by Olen Steinhauer

I am a big fan of Steinhauer and was really looking forward to this second book in The Tourist series The Nearest Exit. I usually read them in ARC format before they are released but I have been so busy that I actually bought this one weeks after it had been released.

Booklist had a nice recap/review

Since the events of The Tourist (2009), Milo Weaver has served time in prison, worked in administration, and tried to reconnect with his wife and daughter. But talk therapy is hard when you’re trained to keep secrets. When asked to return to the field, he agrees, although, because of his disgust with the Department of Tourism (a black-ops branch of the CIA), he plans to feed information to his father, Yevgeny Primakov, the “secret ear” of the UN. But his handlers don’t trust him, either, giving him a series of vetting assignments that culminates in an impossible loyalty test: the abduction and murder of a 15-year-old girl. Ironically, Weaver is then tasked with finding a security breach that threatens the very existence of Tourism—and the lives of the Tourists. Seeing his own brutal compatriots as humans, he does his best to save the thing he despises, a conundrum that pretty much sums up the shades of gray that paint this modern-day espionage masterpiece.
The Tourist was impressive, proving that Steinhauer had the ability to leap from the historical setting of his excellent Eastern European quintet to a vividly imagined contemporary landscape. But this is even better, a dazzling, dizzyingly complex world of clandestine warfare that is complicated further by the affairs of the heart. Steinhauer never forgets the human lives at stake, and that, perhaps, is the now-older Weaver’s flaw: he is too human, too attached, to be the perfect spy. His failure to save the girl he was told to kill threads the whole book like barbed wire.

My quick take? It was great – I expected nothing less from Olen of course! –  an intelligent and literary thriller. This one seemed even more focused on the psychological and emotional (Milo’s marriage, what it means to be a Tourist, etc.) even as it explored the complicated world of Post Cold War espionage and foreign affairs.   Just as you think you have a handle on the plot there is a twist at the end that keeps you guessing.  There is a depth to the emotional and moral element however, that gives the spy thriller aspect added heft.  I think I might need to re-read this one to fully appreciate it.

So if you are looking for something to read this summer and for some bizzare reason haven’t yet read Steinhauer I suggest you rectify that as soon as possible.

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