Review: Safe Houses by Dan Fesperman

rpszjbl-hw2zxzwhle8vxvx43mw9mko2gztt1c7xxdn0va6060A superbly crafted espionage thriller that doubles as a gripping mystery.

West Berlin, 1979; the height of the Cold War. Helen Abell is the young, rookie overseer of the CIA’s network of clandestine safe houses. She’s serving one such safe house, which is supposed to be vacant, when she overhears a meeting between two people, speaking  in a coded language that hints at a vast conspiracy. Encouraged by her lover, a veteran agency operative, to forget what she heard and erase the taped evidence, Helen returns to the safe house, only to stumble upon the abhorrent scene of a high-profile undercover agent violating one of his contacts.

Thirty-five years later, Helen and her husband are shot dead in their farmhouse; purportedly by their mentally-ill son. But Anna, his older sister, doesn’t believe he’s capable of such violence, so hires private investigator Henry Mattick to uncover the truth. She doesn’t know that Henry’s already been tasked by a shadowy benefactor to observe the farmhouse and report back to his mysterious contact…

Fesperman cleanly divides the dual narratives of Safe Houses into the past and present, setting scenes that slowly build in intensity, and keeping readers guessing about who can and cannot be trusted. The novel only stumbles once, when Anna and Henry become romantically involved, which feels like such a cliche, but I’ll forgive Fesperman, because the rest of Safe Houses is watertight; the prose crisp, the characterisations vidid. Fans of Cumming, Herron, Porter and le Carre will feel right at home in Fesperman’s world. It’s a chunky six-hundred page thriller that readers like something half the size, and leaves you wanting more.

ISBN: 9781788547888
Format: Paperback / softbackPages: 624
Imprint: Head of Zeus
Publisher: Head of Zeus
Publish Date: 11-Jul-2019
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: The Other Woman by Daniel Silva

Other WomanThe best spy novel you’ll read this year, The Other Woman is a tour de force of slow-burn tension and intrigue.

In a year of quite brilliant tales of espionage — Charles Cumming’s The Man Between and Henry Porter’s Firefly, to name just two — Daniel Silva’s new Gabriel Allon thriller supersedes everything that has come before it. Reminiscent of the great Cold War thrillers from yesteryear  a reflection of current events rather than exaggeration on the author’s part The Other Woman is superb work of espionage from a skilled interpreter of all things topical.

In The Other Woman, Gabriel Allon — the legendary art restorer and assassin who serves as the chief of Israel’s vaunted and deadly secret intelligence service  and his trusted team are tasked with discerning the identity of a Russian mole who has reached the highest echelons of Britain’s MI6. It is a search that thrusts Allon back in time, to one of the 20th century’s greatest intelligence scandals, a period British Intelligence would rather forget, and are therefore resentful of its resurrection. Whether or not Allon identifies the mole, his relationship with the Western intelligence agencies will never be the same again.

The book has everything for the spy fiction aficionado: ample adrenaline-surging action,  endless bureaucratic infighting, and plot-twists you won’t see coming. It works perfectly as a standalone, too: although this is Gabriel Allon’s eighteenth mission, The Other Woman resets the board for the series. Silva writes smart, sophisticated, grounded thrillers: less Ludlum and Flynn (whose explosion-filled, breakneck thrillers I adore), more akin to the fine work of le Carré and Greene. His endnote, too, is rather chilling, as he details the current state of the world, and Russia’s place in it.

Deftly plotted and elegantly written: The Other Woman might just be the spy novel of the year.

5 Star.jpg

ISBN: 9781460755471
Format: Paperback (235mm x 155mm x 37mm)
Imprint: HarperCollins Publishers (Australia) Pty Ltd
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers (Australia) Pty Ltd
Publish Date: 23-Jul-2018
Country of Publication: Australia

The Deceivers by Alex Berenson

9780399176166A suspenseful, professional-grade geopolitical thriller, which features all the action and intrigue readers of Daniel Silva and Charles Cumming demand.

The Deceivers, the twelfth novel in the John Wells series, is actually my first, but certainly won’t be my last. Although its premise and archetypes are bracingly familiar, this is an expertly packaged globe-spanning thriller, with plenty of page-turning propulsion and a dangling climax that makes Berenson’s next book a must-read.

The Deceivers opens with small-time drug dealer Ahmed Shakir fooled into participating in a terrorist attack at a Dallas baseball game, which sees him, and hundreds of others, killed in a mammoth explosion. President Vinny Duto summons ex–CIA agent John Wells to travel to Bogotá, Colombia, to investigate a lead on the attack. It’s clear Wells and Duto have a long history — obviously explored in earlier books — and I can’t wait to delve backwards to see what’s lead to their shared animosity. As Wells investigates, Senator Paul Birman,  the greatest threat to Duto in the next election, is seeing his popularity spike as he spits after the Dallas attack. But Birman’s success is fundamentally down to the intelligence of his cousin Paul, a decorated war veteran and, it turns out, a spy for the Russians. Meanwhile, former Army sniper Tom Miller is compelled by the beautiful newcomer to his life, Allie, to utilise his deadly skills on targets of her choosing. All these loosely-connected threads eventually tie together in a bloody, pulse-pounding conclusion.

Alex Berenson’s The Deceivers is grand entertainment, intricately plotted, and timely.

ISBN: 9780399176166
Format: Hardback (229mm x 152mm x mm)
Pages: 432
Imprint: Putnam Publishing Group,U.S.
Publisher: Putnam Publishing Group,U.S.
Publish Date: 6-Feb-2018
Country of Publication: United States

Review: London Rules by Mick Herron

9781473657380.jpgLondon Rules — the fifth book in the Jackson Lamb series — epitomises precisely why Mick Herron’s espionage novels are the new hallmarks of the genre. It is a rousing, provocative — and genuinely funny, at times — political thriller with a  labyrinthine plot that, despite its villains remaining little more than sketches, excels thanks to its large, diverse cast of ‘Slow Horses’ whose personal travails and tribulations add depth to protagonists who are often little more than stock cardboard cutouts.

New readers are welcomed into the world of Slough House, where failed (dubbed incompetent) MI-5 agents are deposited to waste their days, twiddling their thumbs, doing mind-numbing busy work, but it’s readers who’ve been with these characters since Slow Horses who’ll get maximum enjoyment from London Rules. By now, the Slow Horses are entangled in a thick continuity soup, and each book in the series serves as an episodic interlude into their lives, the spotlight shared between various characters. This time around the balance is fairly even, which makes the story’s unravelling all the more nerve-wracking, because Herron has displayed a willingness to kill off characters before, and given the vastness of the cast he’s working with, one can’t help but feel it’s only a matter of time before further reductions are made.

London Rules deals with various plot threads that eventually, quite brilliantly, tie together. While Slow Horse Roddy Ho is targeted for assassination, a string of bizarre, seemingly random terrorist attacks rock the United Kingdom. Meanwhile, Regent’s Park’s First Desk, Claude Whelan, is struggling to protect the hapless prime minister from the MP who orchestrated the Brexit vote, who has his sights set on Number Ten; not to mention the MP’s wife, a tabloid columnist, who’s obliterating Whelan in print; then there’s the soon-to-be mayor of London the Prime Minister has allied himsel with, who has a dark, potentially devastating secret. Poor Whelan, dealing with all of this, while his own deputy, Lady Di Taverner, watches on, waiting for him to stumble. And while these machinations are certainly intriguing and propulsive, it’s how River Cartwright, Catherine Standish, JK Coe and all the others are managing the stresses of their personal lives, and the consequences of their previous missions, that prove the ultimate page-turning factor.

Mick Herron’s novels sit comfortably somewhere between le Carré and Bond: meticulously plotted, deliberately paced, fun, and not overly deep. London Rules is a terrific yarn filled with tension and surprises right to the end. Every instalment in this series is a pleasure to read.

ISBN: 9781473657380
Format: Paperback (235mm x 162mm x 26mm)
Pages: 352
Imprint: John Murray Publishers Ltd
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton General Division
Publish Date: 8-Feb-2018
Country of Publication: United Kingdom