Tag Archives: spy thriller

“A Spy in Exile: A Thriller,” by Jonathan de Shalit

Atria/Emily Bestler Books, 384 pages. Hardcover $27.00

Review by Philip K. Jason

A pseudonymous former senior staffer in the Israeli intelligence community has crafted an exciting, highly original espionage thriller. The premise: Israel’s intelligence operatives are getting predictable and lax. The Prime Minister, wishing to shake things up, establishes a nameless new entity under deep cover, an extremely fluid team that answers only to him.


Though recently removed from her position at the Mossad, Ya’ara Stein–beautiful, resourceful, and ruthless–is selected to head this unit. The six team members she recruits generally work in pairs to fulfill missions, developing personal as well as spy-craft relationships. They learn tradecraft on the job: training and assignment execution are compressed into one tense and explosive experience. The group must remain invisible, with no recourse to outside assistance. . . .


To read the full Jewish Book Council Review, click here: A Spy in Exile. 

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Terror thriller balances momentum, restraint

Assassin’s Code, by Ward Larsen. Forge Books. 368 pages. Hardcover $25.99.

The fourth David Slaton novel keeps Mr. Larsen on top of the spy thriller mountain. While it works well as a stand-alone novel, readers who know the series will gain even more from their longer exposure to Slayton’s character, skills, and past. As ever, the precision with which the author details Slaton’s planning and execution of his assignment is totally engaging. However, the handling of brilliant tradecraft is only part of the book’s appeal. Mr. Larsen’s plot develops from a powerful premise that echoes present-day realities – and perhaps anticipates the future. 

Europe, and particularly France, is fighting what seems to be an end-of-days war against ISIS. Retired (except when on call to top level Mossad missions) operative and assassin David Slaton discovers a strange message that that seems to have been left for him alone. A computer memory stick holds a photo of a man named Zavier Baland, the fasted rising Frenchman slated to take over DGSI, his nation’s premier counterterrorist agency.

The photo shocks Slayton, who recognizes the person as Ali Samir, an Islamic terrorist who Slayton murdered fifteen years back. Or did he? Who is responsible for leaving this clue for Slayton? What should he do about it?

If Samir survived to reinvent himself as Baland, is France about to install an ISIS secret agent as its bulwark against terrorism? Could anything be more dangerous for the French Republic? Can Baland be exposed and/or stopped?

The plot is revealed through the alternating perspectives of several key players. Principal among these is Slayton, whose domestic live is portrayed as the antithesis of his murderous, if patriotic, occupation. His concern for his wife and child are consistently as war with his concern for Israel, Israel’s allies, and humanistic values.


Mr. Larsen enters Baland’s mind and probes deeper and deeper into Baland’s sense of self: his core identity and values. Like Slayton, he is a compromised family man. Readers are privy to the decisions Baland is formulating as the time of great crisis for France and for the West approach. The increasing frequency and violence of terrorist acts may or may not be his agenda.

Mr. Larsen provides are facts and perspectives through the presentation of two additional characters. One is a rather mysterious young woman, Malika, a terrorist operative of great skill and determination. She is a master of disguises and subterfuge. She is an expert marksman. Like Slaton, she is totally professional in choosing the best vantage points from which to gather information while keeping hidden, the best vantage points for firing her weapons. She is great at mind games. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the October 11, 2017 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the October 12 Naples, Bonita Springs, Charlotte County, and Palm Beach editions, click here: https://fortmyers.floridaweekly.com/pageview/viewer/2017-10-11#page=52

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“The English Teacher,” by Yiftach Reicher Atir

Translated by Philip Simpson. Penguin Books. 272 pp. Trade paperback $16.00.

This psychological thriller probes the damaging uncertainties of life undercover.

Rachel Goldshmitt, Rachel Brooks, Rachel Ravid. Who is Rachel, exactly? Knowing she is a Mossad operative involved in a dangerous undercover assignment only begins to answer the question.  Cover_TheEnglishTeacher

In this dark, interior tale, identity is scrutinized from several angles: identity hidden, identity adopted, identity lost. How does an operative playing out her cover story hold on to who she really is underneath? What does she have to sacrifice to be effective? And is she, herself, the sacrifice?

The English Teacher begins with the disappearance of this seasoned and exceptionally successful operative. Her former mentor and handler, Ehud, along with another senior Mossad operative, is assigned to determine what happened to her.

While Ehud cares deeply about this woman, whom he has known and secretly loved for a long time, it is not caring alone that motivates him. A stray agent is a danger to the Mossad and to Israeli security. She knows too much. How could this person, who as a young woman immigrated to Israel and whose Zionist passion made her a fairly easy recruit, simply disappear?

Much of the novel follows the investigation conducted by Ehud and his associate, Joe. Their dialogue is a rich blend of their personal and professional lives. For Ehud, his future is at stake. While the two men have a high degree of trust and shared understanding of the spy business, there is a game going on in which Joe has the upper hand.

Yiftach Reicher Atir

Yiftach Reicher Atir

Another dimension of the novel follows Ehud’s interior life at various times in his life and in his relationship with Rachel. And yet another segment, by far the most provocative, though dependent on insights afforded by the other characters, follows Rachel: her challenges, her loneliness, her search for a way of holding on to a centered self among the variable selves she dons for her country.

Rachel, whose cover is as a Canadian citizen raised in England, enters an Arab city (probably left unidentified due to Israeli censorship) and finds work at a school specializing in teaching English. She had already developed this skill while living in the Israeli town of Rehovot.

Breaking every rule, but perhaps still with a spy’s intent, she allows herself an affair with an Arab man named Rashid. In his company, she can visit places at which she might otherwise seem out of place. . . . .

To see the entire review in its original appearance, click here: The English Teacher | Washington Independent Review of Books

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Novel blends popular genres to please wide range of readers

The Hadron Escape, by Lawrence De Maria. St. Austin’s Press. 203 pages (estimated). Kindle edition $2.99.

Billed as a “Cole Sudden CIA Thriller,” this latest offering from the indefatigable Mr. De Maria mixes a dollop of imaginary WWII history, present day secret agent intrigue, and a twist on a familiar sci-fi “what if” into an exciting and spirited entertainment. Both fun and funny, “The Hadron Escape” features sex-addicted women who are (with one grotesque exception) amazingly gorgeous and a skilled, wise-cracking operative whose cover is being a writer of thriller novels. HADRON(August2014)

In 1945, mad German scientist Erik Zyster tells SS Colonel Boltke he has discovered the corpse of a nonhuman being. Boltke’s mindset misunderstands “nonhuman” for Jew, but that is not the depraved doctor’s point. He explains, “He had no penis. No testicles no genitals at all.” While Boltke passes this off as a birth defect or sexual aberration, Zyster reveals that the internal organs are unusually sized and positioned.

Jump to 1967. Colonel Boltke has long ago transformed himself into Walter Bannion. Mr. De Maria places him in a small Vermont town near the Canadian border. He had escaped from Europe to Argentina and lived there as Walter Bruschi for many years. When the Israelis captured Adolph Eichman, Boltke planned and executed his next transformation, establishing himself as Bannion in early 1962.

Soon after a minor skiing accident, Boltke/Bannion is surprised by a visit from Dr. Zyster. Zyster tells of his escape from the laboratory he headed, his disguise as a Jewish survivor, and his life since. Then he tells “Bannion” about recent stories describing alien corpses with characteristics just like those he had shown the colonel two decades ago. He also conjectures that aliens where spying on U. S research near Roswell, New Mexico.

De Maria

After adding some speculation about nuclear physics research and space travel, the author launches his main plot. However, first he must have Mossad agent Etan Soul, who has been tracking Zyster, wonder about Zyster’s companion at the ski lodge. After Zyster kills Boltke, Soul kills Zyster, but salvages his attaché case –which he soon ships to Tel Aviv with whatever remnants of the doctor’s research it contains.

The present time: Mr. De Maria builds context about recent U. S. security agency concerns, agency rivalries, and high-tech issues. A top security official receives a mysterious intercepted message regarding the Hadron Collider, the world’s largest subatomic particle accelerator. The message was sent from Commerce, Georgia to a destination in Switzerland where the Hadron is located.  The encrypted transmission has symbols that Laurie Gibbons, the security advisor with a direct presidential pipeline, has never seen before. She learns that Hadron activity distorts electronic transmissions, posing a big problem for code breakers. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the October 14, 2014 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the October 15 Naples and Punta Gorda/Port Charlotte editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Hadron Escape

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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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