Book Review: Defectors, by Joseph Kanon #Defectors

Publisher:  Simon and Schuster UK

Publication date: 1st June 2017

Dangerous games with perilous consequences are played to perfection in Defectors. This story of an American CIA agent’s defection during the 1960s is both fascinating and engrossing.

In Moscow, the life Frank Weeks leads with his wife and Russian bodyguard Boris is not what I’d expected at all. There are unwritten rules that are never broken and he’s careful not to abuse these publicly, but as he wrote most of them for ‘The Service’ he knows how to shape them to his advantage on occasion.

What I found interesting was his sense of purpose within ‘The Service’, the difference he expects to make regardless of the cost of his own country. When he voluntarily defected he left his brother behind with people asking questions he couldn’t answer. Even though Frank and his wife are officially held captive by his values, they have adopted a stoic performance for anyone who may be watching, listening and reporting their movements.

Frank is a curious character. On one hand you’d think him cold-hearted, in fact learning some of his problem solving techniques you’d better believe he is, but when the strains of a personal tragedy affect his wife he is motivated to take extreme action, offering a small glimpse of his personality other than being stamped as nothing more than a traitor.

Cue an invitation for Simon, his publicist brother, to join him in Moscow to discuss the draft manuscript of Frank’s memoirs which will set the record straight once and for all. Given the nature of Frank’s position, being a notorious spy, I would have thought that more intimidating powers were likely to object, but he has permission to go public providing he preserve the identities any ‘active’ agents.

But even as we follow Frank and a suspicious Simon (complete with the very loyal Boris) around on their meticulously planned sightseeing excursions while something even greater than the memoir is brewing, you never truly get a vivid picture of Frank’s train of thought. There’s always that feeling that he’s keeping something back that will never be shared until the end.

Adapting to changing circumstances and knowing the shadow of a Russian agent is never far away becomes natural, like breathing. Although it does takes Simon a little longer to adjust during his short stay. Simon’s principles may differ from his brother but a bond remains, where threats and complications are tackled with unflinching spontaneity.

Defectors emphasises the human perspective in a story of spies, lies, and family ties, where even the best laid plans can buckle under the weight of the wrong decision and the element of surprise is always two steps ahead. I was impressed by the speed at which the narrative hurtled along while a veiled authority determined the outcome of people’s lives with frightening unpredictability. 

Rating:   4/5

(I’m grateful to Emma Finnigan and the publishers for providing a copy of this title and it’s my pleasure to provide an unbiased review.)

(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

Some secrets should never be told.

Moscow, 1961: With the launch of Sputnik, the Soviet Union’s international prestige is at an all-time high. And the most notorious of the defectors to the Soviet Union, former CIA agent Frank Weeks, is about to publish his memoirs. What he reveals will send shock waves through the West. Weeks’ defection in the early 1950s shook Washington to its core – and forced the resignation of his brother, Simon, from the State Department.

Simon, now a publisher in New York, is given the opportunity to read and publish his brother’s memoir. He knows the US government will never approve the publication of what is clearly intended as KGB propaganda. Yet the offer is irresistible: it will finally give him the chance to learn why his brother chose to betray his country.

But what he discovers in Moscow is far more shocking than he ever imagined …

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(Courtesy of Author’s website)

Joseph Kanon is the internationally bestselling author of eight novels, which have been published in twenty-four languages: Los Alamos, which won the Edgar Award for best first novel; The Good German, which was made into a film starring George Clooney and Cate Blanchett; The Prodigal Spy, Alibi, which earned Kanon the Hammett Award of the International Association of Crime Writers; Istanbul Passage, and Leaving Berlin. He is also a recipient of The Anne Frank Human Writers Award for his writings on the aftermath of the Holocaust. Before becoming a full-time writer, he was a book publishing executive. He lives in New York City with his wife, literary agent Robin Straus. They have two sons.

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Book Review: The Damascus Cover, by Howard Kaplan

Publisher: Howard Kaplan   |  Publication date: 7th August 2014   |  Edition: Kindle (Review Copy) Damascus - My Review

The Damascus CoverSpies, lies and mission that seems nigh on impossible. 

Ari Ben-Sion is an agent of dubious reliability after his previous conduct in the field met with dire consequences.

Feeling redundant, pushing papers in an office, Ari learns of a mission in Damascus and volunteers for the task. It’s a dangerous job, but someone’s got to do it. Soon, Ari finds himself effortlessly channelling a furniture procurer by the name of Hans Hoffman, an alto ego that will assist him in his role.

In order to smuggle a group of children out of the city, Ari / Hans has been tasked with infiltrating the Nazi population, who, despite the end of the War, are still carrying out their persecution of the Jewish population there.

The finger of doom appears to be relentlessly prodding our agent on this mission. Following a catalogue of mishaps, no shows, and his cover potentially being blown he finds himself sweating, and not because of the weather.

The rendezvous date is getting closer. Cut off from any outside help Ari / Hans is faced with making rash decisions, but experience tells him that he cannot afford to make mistakes as the punishment that would befit a spy would be severe.

Among the secrets there’s an added dash of love interest, as his time is spent in the company of a gorgeous photographer, Kim Johnson. Despite their involvement Ari keeps his true identity concealed, which encourages his lady friend to develop a furtive curiosity about him.

There’s plenty of suspicion and certain events will lead you to feel compassion for this bloke out on a limb, although, after reading the book summary I’d geared myself up for more gripping suspense and drama throughout. Personally, I didn’t feel it picked up the ‘thrilling pace’ I’d anticipated until I’d almost reached the end of the book and the finale arrived with the most unexpected shock.

Overall The Damascus Cover has a solid, steady plot and is set in a hostile, yet intriguing location. It’s certainly worth a look if you’re a spy thriller fan.

Rating: 3/5

(I’m grateful to the author for providing a digital copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.)

Damascus - Book Summary

(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

DAMASCUS_portrait_Correct-SpellingLA TIMES BESTSELLER. FEATURE FILM STARRING JONATHAN RHYS MEYERS JOHN HURT COMPLETED

“KAPLAN IS UP THERE WITH THE BEST” – CLIVE CUSSLER

In a last ditch effort to revive his career, washed out agent Ari Ben-Sion accepts a mission he never would have 30 years ago, to smuggle a group of Jewish children out of the Damascus ghetto. Or so he thinks. In Damascus, a beautiful American photographer, Kim, seems to be falling in love with Ari, but she is asking too many questions. His communication equipment disappears. His contact never shows up. The operation is only hours away and everything seems awry.

Desperate to succeed, Ari might risk everything. Even his life.

Feature film of The Damascus Cover starring Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Sir John Hurt, Olivia Thirlby, Jurgen Prochnow and Navid Negahban finished shooting in Casablanca and Jerusalem Summer 2015.

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Damascus - Author Profile

(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

HOWARD KAPLAN, a native of Los Angeles, has lived in Israel and travelled extensively through Lebanon, Syria and Egypt. At the age of 21, while attending school in Jerusalem, he was sent on a mission into the Soviet Union to smuggle out a dissident’s manuscript on microfilm. His first trip was a success. On his second trip to the Soviet Union, he was arrested in Kharkov in the Ukraine and interrogated for two days there and two days in Moscow, before being released. He holds a BA in Middle East History from UC Berkeley and an MA in the Philosophy of Education from UCLA. He is the author of four novels.

On March 23, 2015 film shoot wrapped on the feature film DAMASCUS COVER starring Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Sir John Hurt. My photographs from the set, and other updates, can be found on my Facebook Author Page: https://www.facebook.com/HowardKaplanauthorDamascusCover.

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Please note:  The book cover and film poster included in this post were provided by the author, with my thanks.

Book Review: The Wreck of the Argyll, by John K Fulton

Publisher:  Cargo Publishing  |  Publication date:  24th September 2015  |  Edition: Paperback (Review Copy)

Wreck of Argyll Review

The Wreck of Argyll by John K Fulton CoverThe Wreck of the Argyll is a wonderfully thrilling story featuring an unlikely friendship and the endeavours to catch a German spy against all odds, which isn’t easy when you’re twelve years old!

There are two threads to this tale:  The friends’ adventure on land and their frustration when responsible adults refuse to take them seriously. Then there’s the ocean adventure of the crew of the HMS Argyll, a small ship that mustn’t fall into enemy hands under any circumstances and the dilemmas facing those on board.

We visit both journeys in alternating chapters and each is exciting and tense in its own right.

It’s 1915 in Wartime Scotland and Nancy fancies herself as a bit of an undercover detective. She suspects one of her teachers is working for the ‘other side’ and takes it upon herself to gather the evidence to capture him. One evening, when she’s following the alleged spy, she is involved in an altercation with some neighbourhood lads. That’s when she meets Jamie as he comes to her rescue. Yet their initial friendship isn’t entirely mutual.

Jamie wonders why a young girl is on the street at an ungodly hour and Nancy confesses her motives. Although a little reluctant to help at first, homeless Jamie shrugs aside any doubts as he nothing else left to lose. But before he knows it he finds himself involved in a deadly game of cat and mouse.

With HMS Argyll facing treacherous conditions and a mountain of communication difficulties hindering almost everyone, catastrophic consequences for the entire country seem unavoidable both on land and at sea – the story builds to quite a crescendo!

The marvellous nature of this tale is that it shows the extremes of life in 1915. Jamie lives rough after his father was killed in France and the lad found life with his mum strained. Midshipman Melville from the HMS Argyll is not much older and yet he faces huge responsibilities. Even restricted opportunities for ladies are touched upon (but it doesn’t always hold them back!). Plus, it’s fast-paced with some great dialogue exchanges and there’s the most fantastic conclusion to draw both journeys together. It really is quite a little gem.

The Wreck of the Argyll offers the perfect blend of perseverance, courage and skulduggery. It’s a snapshot of life in a bygone era where working together and having conviction in your beliefs can achieve more than anyone could ever hope for, despite the obstacles placed in your way.

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.  (Okay, so it’s for children but I absolutely loved it!)

Rating: 5/5

(Massive thanks to Cargo Publishing and Gill Tasker for providing a delightful paperback copy of this book for review.)

Wreck of Argyll Book Summary

(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

Dundee, 1915. Twelve-year-old Nancy Caird is desperate to do her bit for the war. So when she suspects one of her teachers of being a German spy, she is determined to foil his plans, and ropes in the reluctant Jamie Balfour to help her uncover the scheme. Midshipman Harry Melville is on his first voyage aboard HMS Argyll as it forges through the black and stormy North Sea, unaware of both hidden rocks and German plots that threaten the ship. When Nancy and Jamie’s suspicions are confirmed, and they discover HMS Argyll is in deadly danger, they are drawn into a web of espionage, secrets, and betrayal, where no-one is as they seem and no-one can be trusted.

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Wreck of Argyll Author Links

(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

John K Fulton is the son of a lighthouse keeper, and grew up all around the coast of Scotland. These remote and lonely locations instilled in him a life-long love of books and the sea. He studied at the Universities of St. Andrews and Dundee, and now lives in Leicester with his partner Sandra. While Leicester is about as far from the sea as you can get in the UK, their home is stuffed with books, which is the next-best thing.

The Wreck of the Argyll is his first novel, and is the winner of the Great War Dundee Children’s Book Prize.

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