Tag Archives: CIA

Almost down for the count, Kirk McGarvey rebounds to outdo the bad guys

Flash Points, by David Hagberg. Forge. 320 pages. Hardcover $25.99.

This electrifying thriller continues the battle between his continuing hero, Kirk McGarvey, and the shrewd, highly skilled freelance assassin introduced in Tower Down (reviewed in these pages). Let’s call that man, who has several identities, Kamal. He has roots in Saudi Arabia, but easily blends into Western environments. For sale to the highest bidder, he has his own agenda.  

At the top of Kamal’s list is the murder of “Mac,” his nemesis. Not only must he cleanse the world of this CIA operative and former director, Kamal needs to see Mac suffer, and maybe Mac’s girlfriend as well. Mac had foiled Kamal’s plan to bring down a second Manhattan skyscraper in “Tower Down.”

However, what’s making Kamal a very wealthy man is his agreement to put Mac out of the way for other reasons. Groups with opposing attitudes toward the new U. S. president want Mac out of the way because he is the person most likely to detect and foil their plans.

The group wishing to discredit the new president is bankrolling a series of terrorist catastrophes meant to undermine the stature of the inexperienced, ill equipped president. He will, so goes the scheme, inevitably blunder in ways that will make his replacement inevitable. This group’s leaders have put Kamal on their payroll.

The cadre that supports the new president wishes to use similar schemes to opposite ends. They will be manipulating events to make him look good; not only will the outcome assure solidifying his base, but also expanding it.


The novel opens with an explosion meant to destroy Mac’s car and him with it. Planned by Kamal, misplacement of the explosive material by a hireling lessens the impact. Nonetheless, Mac loses a leg. The CIA leadership thinks it best for him to recuperate in secret and for the word to get out that he has been killed.

While Mac gets used to his peg leg and recovers from other wounds, he participates in the planning that will draw out the crafty Kamal.

Mr. Hagberg alternates the center of consciousness so that readers switch back and forth between following Kamal’s thoughts, emotions, and actions and following Mac’s. The tradecraft and courage of each is well displayed, as is their sharp contrast in values. Suspense builds higher and higher as the inevitable confrontation draws closer and closer. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the May 23, 2018 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the May 24 Naples, Bonita Springs, Charlotte County, and Palm Beach editions, click here:  Florida Weekly – Flash Points

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The Hapsburg Variation: A Cold War Thriller

  • By Bill Rapp. Coffeetown Press. 264 pges. Trade paperback $15.95.

A CIA agent’s mettle is tested in this tale of post-WWII intrigue.   

Vienna, indeed all of Central Europe, is a place of uncertainty in 1955. The major post-WWII forces are working hard to move beyond the uncertainties toward stability. In this powerful historical novel, that movement is centered on the State Treaty among the former Allied nations. This treaty will restore Austria’s independence and rid it of occupying forces.

As the time for the signing approaches, the nations invested in the outcome keep jockeying for position. It is not clear if all parties wish the treaty to succeed. Maintaining influence remains the goal of Great Britain, the U.S., France, Germany, and the Soviet Union.

The intelligence agencies are the key players, and CIA agent Karl Baier, stationed in Vienna, is part of the U.S. government team hoping to avoid an outcome that positions Austria as a neutral entity. Soviet motives and moves are suspect. Baier is a complex, well-developed professional who has been with the agency for eight years.

Baier finds himself involved in investigating the death of an Austrian aristocrat, a man who seems to have been trying to bring back the structure of the Hapsburg Empire. He has connections with the British and the Soviets, but the meaning of these connections is not clear.

Complicating Baier’s professional and personal life is the abduction and imprisonment of his wife.

Bill Rapp

Intrigue is everywhere, trust is hard to find, and needed information, let alone the interpretation of that information, seems hidden behind murky windows of indirection, suspicion, and fear.

Most of author Bill Rapp’s scenes are built on conversations between Baier and his colleagues or counterparts. The flavor of these exchanges is nightmarish. Representatives of supposedly cooperating agencies are busy trying to pry into each other’s heads, attempting to gain knowledge without giving away anything. It’s clear to Baier that even those in his CIA cadre hold things back. Therefore, the accumulation of information is a slow and unsteady process. All involved fear being compromised — or worse.

The conversations go around in circles and barely move Baier forward. Readers will share his frustration, and Rapp runs the huge risk of losing them even as his characters move on with their mind games.

When a narrative depends this much on dialogue, that dialogue ought to accomplish something beyond setting up smokescreens. While this technique captures a valuable verisimilitude, one is tempted to skip much of it and look for the next action sequence.

In scenes with greater action and less of the artfully phony chatter, Rapp more readily holds readers’ attention. When Baier checks to make sure he isn’t being followed, for instance, we feel his anxiety and appreciate his tradecraft. When Baier evaluates meeting places or notes the hide-and-seek of carefully orchestrated seating arrangements at clandestine gatherings, the author has his readers in thrall. . . .

For the full review, published in Washington Independent Review of Books, click here:  The Hapsburg Variation

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Can ISIS outdo the 9/11 day of horror?

Isis in the City, by EE Hunt. Xlibris. 365 pages. Hardcover $29.99, Trade paperback $19.99.

Let me say this up front: I am reviewing this book because of its interesting and timely premise, its well-imagined action, and its fairly well-drawn characters. However, I am fully aware of its shortcomings: awkward sentence constructions, missing words, typos, and a general lack of professional editing. I still think it’s worth the reader’s time. 

Mr. Hunt (I don’t know which of his clerical and academic titles to use) takes readers into the very possible scenario of a small cadre of Islamic extremists planning something like a repeat performance of 9/11. One, named Nadir, seems to be a truly able leader, while another – Assad –  is a compulsive complainer and uncharacteristically tall. The remaining two, Amin and Khalid, are not sharply individualized until one of them is tapped to take on a particularly important role. We eavesdrop on their planning sessions and their attempts to keep a low profile in established Muslim neighborhoods. Mr. Hunt does a fine job of tracing their day to business, their hopes, and their fears.

That is, he gets into their heads so that we sense the degree of their radicalization.

We follow them as they carry out two missions of destruction. One is set at a Times Square area theater. They attack the theater audience and anyone else in the vicinity, including law enforcement officers. They chose the right time for maximum chaos. They are largely successful, even though their attack was anticipated.

Mr. Hunt provides alternating chapters and sections of chapters. Those not focused on the terrorists focus on another team of four. This is the counterterrorist team that includes Lieutenant Sherry Williams, the courageous and shapely team leader; Ted, her husband-to-be and FBI agent; and Charles, CIA representative and love interest to the formidable Fatima – the Muslim voice of peaceful coexistence who hates the hijacking of her religion.

The interactions of the couples and this tightly bonded foursome are carefully and credibly portrayed, especially as the time drawers near for the major terrorist event.

What could be more powerfully symbolic for the terrorists than destroying the National September 11 Memorial & Museum? What could be more disheartening for American patriots – and especially security workers – than such a catastrophe?

To read the entire review, as it appears in the September 20, 2017 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the September 21 issues of the Naples and other editions, click on link or copy and paste this URL: https://fortmyers.floridaweekly.com/pageview/viewer/2017-09-20#page=52

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US Congresswoman kidnapped by Shining Path guerillas held for ransom high in the Peruvian Andes

Shining Path, by William Schnorbach. Aristos Press. 295-page hardcover $29.95. 346-page trade paperback $17.00.

Billed as “A Lone Wolf Thriller – Book One,” book is a piece of novelistic history that sets several fascinating characters against the turmoil in Peru born of corrupt government and a brutal revolutionary force named “Shining Path” by its founder, Manuel Ruben Abimael Guzman Reynosa (usually reduced to Abimael Guzman). He considered himself to be the fourth sword of Marxism, inspired by the Maoist third sword (following Marx and Lenin). Mr. Schnorbach focuses his narrative on four months toward the end of a twelve-year nightmare of violence for the Peruvian people. 

The principal characters are U. S. Congresswoman Marta Stone, who plans to grab a Senate seat in a forthcoming election; a Native American undercover CIA operative and “sky walker” who uses the moniker Lone Wolf, super-skilled and dangerous; and Antonio Navarro, co-founder of Shining Path who knows the movement has lost its moral compass. The three form an alliance of necessity in a world in which loyalty is bought and sold.

After Marta is abducted in Lima and held as a prisoner of war, Lone Wolf (whose legal name is Josh Barnes) is assigned to rescue her. Antonio (hereafter “Tony”), also imprisoned, is protecting her.

The novel proceeds by rolling out an unhappy mix of action and exposition. The action scenes are stunning whirlwinds of sensory experience. Over and over, Lone Wolf’s special martial skills, offensive and defensive, are on display along with other brands of physical prowess and mental acumen. He is a great planner as well as a great improvisor. He knows how to beat the odds when his team is overmatched.


He, along with Marta and Tony, must make their way through difficult terrain with insufficient nourishment and a determined, well-trained enemy. They deal with injuries and exhaustion.

Mr. Schnorbach handles this action scenes with great skill, offering vivid descriptions of the rugged environment and building pulse-racing tension from episode to episode. . . .

To read the review in its entirely, as it appears in the May 17, 2017 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the May 18 Naples, Bonita Springs, Punta Gorda / Port Charlotte, and Palm Beach editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Shining Path

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Penetrating thriller treats deep-cover spycraft and apocalyptic danger

End Game, by David Hagberg. Forge. 320 pages. Hardcover $25.99.

This latest Kirk McGarvey novel is a major tour de force for its prolific and widely-praised author. Sarasota author David Halberg seems to dare himself with the riskiest premise, leaving readers to wonder if he can manage those self-made challenges of plotting, suspense, and characters at the edge of plausible definition. What kind of serial killer leaves his mark by eating through the faces and throats of his victims? Is this a mania or a message? endgamecover_hagbergf16

It’s easy for the top strata of CIA insiders to understand the common denominators that define the victim pool. They are all a certain kind of CIA outside insider; that is, they are (or were) NOCs, agents who work under Non-Official Cover. These are operatives who assume covert roles in organizations without official ties to the government. Some, including several in this novel, are somehow repatriated into normal roles within the CIA.

Seven such agents have something else in common: they were all part of or knew about an operation in Kirkuk, the major Iraqi petroleum center. Something was buried above city just before the Second Gulf War, and its discovery and implementation threaten to set off World War Final.

Who’re you gonna call? In a Kirk McGarvey novel you’re going to call Kirk, a former CIA director who is often brought in on special cases. Once you call Kirk, you’re going to hear from his occasional squeeze, Pete Boylan, a brave and beautiful agent who will inevitable get in Kirk’s way – emotionally, that is.



Though this thriller has international sweep, taking readers to Greece, France, Israel, and other locations, many scenes are set at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia just outside of Washington, D. C. In these scenes, the authoritative detail is compelling (whether it is truly accurate or not is another matter). Mr. Hagberg puts us right on the spot, whether he is presenting extended vistas of the campus, main buildings or outbuildings, or the interiors of offices and meeting rooms. Security and other technical features are highlighted, and the reality of the CIA characters is enhanced by the way they related to their environment.

In the courtyard at CIA headquarters stands Kryptos, a piece of statuary designed to reveal important secrets of if it can be decoded. Its four engraved copper panels, once deciphered, predict the means and purpose of the serial killings. Re-writing history is part of the agenda. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the October 12, 2016 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the October 13 Naples, Bonita Springs, and Punta Gorda / Port Charlotte editions, click here: Florida Weekly – End Game

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This technological thriller is a fun treat not to be missed

Assassin’s Silence, by Ward Larsen. Forge. 400 pages. Hardcover $25.99.

Reading this book was almost too much fun. There is so much pleasure to be had in the appreciation of a piece of writing that reaches such a high peak of control over its many interlocking fragments. Mr. Larsen’s new technological thriller, the third installment of his David Slaton Series, is a masterful piece of plot construction and of balancing what is to be revealed and what withheld. Jammer Davis, the protagonist of another Larsen series, makes a delightful appearance, guiding the decisions of security agency heads who can barely tolerate Jammer’s disdain for protocol. ASSASSIN'SSILENCECOVER

Strange things are happening in Malta. David Slaton, an ex-Mossad assassin thought to be dead in order to protect his wife and son, is finding trouble. He finds himself encountering and eliminating the members of a team put together for the purpose of implementing a world-threatening terrorist action. But some of them find him first!

Meanwhile, in Brazil, a large, long out of use transport plane, an MD-10, has been sought, purchased, and secretly outfitted for a special mission – perhaps a one-time mission. It is holding in its enormous cargo tanks a huge quantity of radioactive material. And it is headed to the Middle East.



Ward Larsen — by shifting perspectives, locations, and expectations – keeps the reader guessing. Each new revelation about the plane’s mission, the terrorists’ motives, the execution plan, the characters’ responsibilities, and the range of technological capabilities ups the suspense while raising new questions.

In Langley, Virginia, a CIA team is trying to put the pieces together so that disaster can be forestalled and U. S. interests protected. Who lives in Virginia? David Slaton’s wife Christine and their young son. Who is involved in the CIA investigation? Jammer Davis’s sometime girlfriend, special agent Sorensen. Jammer’s slow burn through the thick layer of bureaucracy and professional turf-guarding is a treat not to be missed. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the July 6, 2016 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the July 7 Naples, Bonita Springs, Punta Gorda / Port Charlotte, Palm Beach Gardens / Jupiter, and Palm Beach / West Palm Beach editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Assassin’s Silence

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Rogue CIA agent plans nuclear vengeance on key cities

The Fourth Horseman, by David Hagberg. Forge. 368 pages. Hardcover $25.99.

Sarasota resident Hagberg’s seventy-plus novels include the popular Kirk McGarvey series, of which this is the latest. It returns to action former CIA director McGarvey in a high stakes assignment that tests all his skills, experience, and resolve. Pakistan is on the edge of chaos, and a quickly emerging leader, self-named Messiah, is on the verge of taking over – but to what end? With four stolen nuclear weapons out of Pakistani government control, it’s likely that more than Pakistan’s future is in jeopardy. FourthHorsemancover_Hagberg

Once McGarvey is tasked by President Charlene Miller with uncovering and stopping Messiah, he finds himself reluctantly teamed with the attractive CIA agent Pete (yes, a girl named Pete) Boylan. Her love for him is obvious and admitted, though McGarvey, still called Mr. Director by old hands, is fearful of an intimate relationship, both professionally and personally. He has already lost too many people he has cared for. McGarvey has enemies: his wife, daughter and son-in-law had been killed by a bomb exploded in a Georgetown restaurant. McGarvey’s mourning and guilt is ongoing, as is his determination to fulfill his duties – an uneasy mix.

Pete won’t stay out of the way. She’s a professional, too, and her skills are needed on this assignment.

It is McGarvey’s conviction that Messiah is none other than a trusted and experienced CIA agent named David Haaris. He has persuaded some other security higher-ups that this is at least likely, but there are others, including an assistant to the president, who are not convinced.



Readers, however, are allowed to get into Haaris’s head – they know more about his motives and plans then any of the characters, including McGarvey.

Haaris, a native of Pakistan who was raised in England, has learned that his cancer is terminal. He is not far away from death. A man who had lived with painful rejection as a child and as a university student, Haaris – in part through his charade as Messiah – is planning his revenge. He has a sophisticated scheme to use the remaining three of the four stolen nuclear missiles (one had been exploded, perhaps inadvertently, by Talaban forces) to bring destruction to New York, Washington DC, and London. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the February 24. 2016 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the February 25 Naples, Bonita Springs, Punta Gorda/Port Charlotte and Palm Beach Gardens/Jupiter editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Hagberg

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Leaving Berlin, by Joseph Kanon

  • Atria Books. 384 pp. $27.00.

This taut page-turner captures the contradictions and complexities of the post-WWII German capital.

In his latest fast-paced thriller, Leaving Berlin, Joseph Kanon explores an exciting, fear-filled time. The constant drone of airlifts bringing scarce supplies to the isolated city devastated by World War II is the background music for beleaguered lives. The experiment of a Soviet Germany in which one authoritarian regime supplants another has everyone looking over his or her shoulder. Old loyalties — and old identities — give way to new or faked ones.Kanon’s central figure is Jewish writer Alex Meier, who, as a young man with a blooming reputation, had left Germany for the United States ahead of the war. Now, in 1949, he returns under complex circumstances.Meier has made a bargain with the devil. The House Un-American Activities Committee (“McCarthy”) threatened to deport him, an uncooperative German socialist, making his return impossible and his separation from his young son permanent. However, Alex reached a deal with the newly established CIA to provide information in exchange for a return to the U.S. A native Berliner with many connections, he is at once at home and in exile. Everything is changing as communist rule reshapes the culture.

Something of a celebrity, Alex mixes with such returned notables as Bertolt Brecht while finding his assignment as a CIA agent upsetting to his moral compass. . . .

To read the entire, juicy review as it appears in the Washington Independent Review of Books (posted April 3, 2015), click here:  http://www.washingtonindependentreviewofbooks.com/bookreview/leaving-berlin

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A spy thriller that rings with important issues for young adults

Two Lies and a Spy, by Kat Carlton. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. 256 pages. Hardcover $16.99.

Karina (“Kari”) Andrews is not your ordinary teenager, though she has the normal teenage angst about boys, her appearance, and high school. What makes her unusual and interesting is that Kari is the sixteen year old daughter of parents who work undercover operations for the CIA. Coincidentally, she goes to a fancy prep school in Washington D. C. where she has a crush on Luke Carson, whose father just happens to head the agency!

Kari has advanced martial arts skills, knows how to hastily improvise a disguise, and is a shrewd problem-solver. She has confidence, energy, and a strong sense of loyalty.  TwoLiesandaSpy

All of her skills and traits are tested when she receives a code text-message from her father that sends her into action. The message suggests a threat to the family. Kari has previously received instructions on what to do, where to go, and what to bring if she ever receives this message.

Taking charge of her younger brother Charlie – a computer geek who reads encyclopedia articles for entertainment – Kari begins to take action when she is befriended by two men who at first seem to be colleagues of her parents, but turn out to be would-be abductors. She discovers that these men are trying to capture Kari and Charlie as a way of gaining leverage against their parents, now perceived as Russian double-agents working against U. S. interests. Irene Andrews has been locked up in a CIA secret prison, and her husband Cal is missing.

Kari soon rallies her forces in an attempt to prove her parents’ innocence and rescue her mother.

The interaction of the teenagers is as powerful an ingredient as the thriller premise. One of Kari’s gang, Rita, is an expert hacker. Kale, who goes to a public school and is from a working class background, is Kari’s friend from martial arts classes.  He plays a major role in the rescue effort and also in the adolescent class warfare when he runs into conflict with Luke’s snooty sister, Lacey. Lacey is a slutty femme fatale addicted to her own appearance and bewildered by Kari’s inability to take fashion or makeup seriously. She’s not much help in the group’s quest.

Evan, a misplaced Brit, is an outsider who has somehow attached himself to this group. He seems a bit older and a bit wiser, but his way of playing the battle of insults with the others, especially Kari, seems immature enough even while witty. However, there’s more to Evan that I can’t reveal. I can tell you that he is quite attracted to Kari, but she keeps fawning over gentlemanly Luke. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the September 19, 2013 Naples Florida Weekly, the September 25 Fort Myers edition, and the September 26 Bonita Springs edition, click here: Florida Weekly – Kat Carlton

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