The best ever spy books?

I have a list of books about spying and espionage in general that I thought I’d share with you.

I got it, almost wholesale, from the always excellent Jeremy Duns, himself a writer of, amongst other things, books about spying and espionage. In some of his other Tweets, he has listed other books, but this is from the list I first wrote down. If I’ve made errors, please don’t be too hard on me, I know nothing about the majority of these books – and several of the authors – and it took a hell of a long time to put it together. Lord, have mercy!

I’ve included cover images (wherever possible) of the versions I will attempt to get my hands on. Also, a quick summary of what the book is about. If you click on the cover, you’ll go to a page where you can order the book. Once again, I’m not making any money off this, it’s just for interest and, hopefully, our reading pleasure.

Here’s the list, in no particular order, in full:

kim-rudyard-kipling-copyKim – Rudyard Kipling
An epic rendition of the imperial experience in India, and perhaps his (Rudyard Kipling) greatest long work. Kim, orphaned son of an Irish soldier and a poor white mother, and the lama, an old ascetic priest, are on a quest. Kim was born and raised in India and plays with the slum children as he lives on the streets, but he is white, a sahib, and wants to play the “Great Game of Imperialism”; while the priest must find redemption from the Wheel of Things. Kim celebrates their friendship and their journeys in a beautiful but hostile environment, capturing the opulence of the exotic landscape and the uneasy presence of the British Raj.

the-riddle-of-the-sands-erskine-childersThe Riddle of the SandsErskine Childers
Loosely based on the author’s own experiences, “The Riddle of the Sands” takes readers back to the early days of the twentieth century, when Britain shared a tense rivalry with the Kaiser’s Germany. Tempted by the idea of duck shooting, Carruthers is lured by his friend Davies into a yachting expedition in the Baltic, only to discover that the itinerary involves more than killing fowl. Soon they’re on a wild journey of intrigue, meeting danger at every turn, and ultimately unraveling Germany’s secret plans to invade England. Tautly written and full of unexpected twists, this is a timeless work of espionage fiction.

the-secret-agent-joseph-conradThe Secret Agent – Joseph Conrad
‘The terrorist and the policeman both come from the same basket.’
Set in an Edwardian London underworld of terrorist bombers, spies, grotesques and fanatics, Conrad’s dark, unsettling masterpiece asks if we ever really know others, or ourselves.

 

 

 

the-thirty-nine-steps-john-buchanThe Thirty Nine StepsJohn Buchan
Adventurer Richard Hannay has just returned from South Africa and is thoroughly bored with his London life – until a spy is murdered in his flat, just days after having warned Hannay of an assassination plot that could plunge Britain into a war with Germany. An obvious suspect for the police and an easy target for the killers, Hannay picks up the trail left by the assassins, fleeing to Scotland, where he must use all his wits to stay one step ahead of the game – and warn the government before it is too late.

 

ashendenAshendenSomerset Maugham
A celebrated writer by the time the war broke out in 1914, Somerset Maugham was dispatched by the Secret Service to Lucerne – under the guise of completing a play. An assignment whose danger and drama appealed both to his sense of romance and of the ridiculous. The stories collected in Ashenden are rooted in Maugham’s own experiences as an agent, reflecting the ruthlessness and brutality of espionage, its intrigue and treachery, as well as absurdity.

 

journey-into-fear-eric-amblerJourney Into FearEric Ambler
It is 1940 and Mr Graham, a quietly-spoken engineer and arms expert, has just finished high-level talks with the Turkish government. And now somebody wants him dead. The previous night three shots were fired at him as he stepped into his hotel room, so, terrified, he escapes in secret on a passenger steamer from Istanbul. As he journeys home – alongside, among others, an entrancing French dancer, an unkempt trader, a mysterious German doctor and a small, brutal man in a crumpled suit – he enters a nightmarish world where friend and foe are indistinguishable. Graham can try to run, but he may not be able to hide for much longer!

assignment-in-brittany-helen-macinnesAssignment in BrittanyHelen Macinnes
She seems to have had a wash and brush up, cover-wise.
He stared at the unfamiliar watch on his wrist. Three hours ago he had stood on English soil. Three hours ago he had been Martin Hearne, British Intelligence agent. Now he was in Nazi-occupied Brittany, posing as Bertrand Corlay. Hearne looked down at the faded uniform which had been Corlay’s felt for the papers in the inside pocket. He was ready. From now on he was one step away from death…

 

our-man-in-havana-graham-greneOur Man In HavanaGraham Greene
Wormold is a vacuum cleaner salesman in a city of power cuts. His adolescent daughter spends his money with a skill that amazes him, so when a mysterious Englishman offers him an extra income he’s tempted. In return all he has to do is carry out a little espionage and file a few reports. But when his fake reports start coming true, things suddenly get more complicated and Havana becomes a threatening place.

 

 

a-taste-for-deathA Taste for Death – Peter O’Donnell
While pearl-diving in Panama, Willie Garvin rescues a blind girl from hired killers. It seems she has rare and secret talents that a crime syndicate, led by the antithesis, Gabriel, would kill to obtain. Meanwhile in London, Modesty meets a man, Simon Delicata, with a taste for death and with such unnatural strength as to be a freak. When the link between Gabriel and Delicata becomes clear, Modesty and Willie realise what they are up against and that it’s too late, for they are being held captive, deep in the Sahara with the zombies of Mus. The blind girl’s uncanny gift is being used to unravel a two thousand-year-old secret, of Domitian Mus, a tribune of Rome. A secret worth millions.

seventeen-moments-of-springSeventeen Moments of SpringYulian Semyonov
A truly dreadful cover, but the one you’re going to havre to try and ignore if you want to read this one. Not available everywhere, so I’ve linked to Amazon. Also a TV series (in Russia?), as far as I can see.
The nightmare of fascism is something we would all rather forget, yet the horrors of the last war and the men who combated the evils of fascism must never be forgotten. Those heroes whose exploits for various reasons were unknown until recently must also be accorded their rightful place in history.
Yulian Semyonov’s new novel Seventeen Moments of Spring brings us the largely documentary story of one of those heroes, Maxim Isaev, alias SS Standartenfuhrer Stirlitz, known as Justas to those in charge of Soviet Intelligence. He has access to top military and political secrets and ejoyed the confidence of Schellenberg, Martin Bormann and Himmler.
The action of the novel is set in 1945, by which time Maxim Isaev has behind him many years’ experience of harrowing intelligence work, involving a constant gamble with death. He is almost at the end of his tether, and is planning to leave the fray after successfully completing a mission from Center when he goes back into the enemy’s lair once again, ready to face risks greater than ever, knowing that there he can best serve his people…
In answer to countless readers’ questions as to whether Maxim Isaev was a fictitious character Semyonov replies: “No, this particular Soviet agent combines traits of several heroic men now living, to whom I should like to express my gratitude for their brave, noble and inspiring lives…”

other-paths-to-glory-anthony-priceOther Paths to GloryAnthony Price
Can the past unlock the secrets of the present…? Anthony Price’s most celebrated novel – winner of the CWA GOLD DAGGER. Paul Mitchell spends his days researching WWI; his quiet life in the library can hardly be in greater contrast to the carnage he studies. Until, that is, the present catches up with him in the shape of Dr Audley of the MOD. Why does Audley want to know what really happened during the battle for Hameau Ridge on the Somme in 1916? The answer is complex and dangerous…

 

los-alamos-joseph-kanonLos AlamosJoseph Kanon
There does seem to be a different version, without the one word reviews and the hideous banner.
Los Alamos Near the end of World War II in Los Alamos, a town set in the shimmering New Mexico desert, an international team of scientists led by Robert Oppenheimer gathered together to build the world’s most dangerous weapon–the atomic bomb. Author Joseph Kanon has crafted an ingenious and utterly absorbing thriller, a tale of espionage and love set against the most important undercover government project.

 

the-company-robert-littellThe CompanyRobert Littell
Another one that’s as rare as rocking-horse shit. I can’t find it available to order, but I haven’t looked on eBay as yet.
This critically acclaimed blockbuster from internationally renowned novelist Robert Littell seamlessly weaves together history and fiction to create a multigenerational, wickedly nostalgic saga of the CIA known as “the Company” to insiders. Racing across a landscape spanning the legendary Berlin Base of the ’50s, the Soviet invasion of Hungary, the Bay of Pigs, Afghanistan, and the Gorbachev putsch, The Company tells the thrilling story of agents imprisoned in double lives, fighting an amoral, elusive, formidable enemy and each other in an internecine battle within the Company itself. A brilliant, stunningly conceived epic thriller, The Company confirms Littell’s place among the genre’s elite.”

decoded-mai-jiaDecodedMai Jia
‘One genius trying to work out what another genius has done – it results in the most appalling carnage …’ The world only makes sense to Rong Jinzhen through numbers. As an orphaned child he counts the ants on the ground and writes calculations on wrapping paper. But as this fragile, isolated boy grows up, his mathematical genius is recognized by the secret services. Recruited as a codebreaker to crack the notorious ‘Purple’ cipher, he begins to unravel …

 

your-face-tomorrowYour Face Tomorrow. Fever and SpearJavier Marias
A remarkable ‘novel in parts’, set in the murky world of surveillance and espionage. Fever and Spear is the first volume. Recently divorced, Jacques Deza moves from Madrid to London in order to distance himself from his ex-wife and children. There he picks up old friendships from his Oxford University days, particularly Sir Peter Wheeler, retired don and semi-retired spy. It is at an Oxford party of Wheeler’s that Jacques is approached by the enigmatic Bertram Tupra. Tupra believes that Jacques has a talent: he is one of those people who sees more clearly than others, who can guess from someone’s face today what they will become tomorrow. His services would be of use to a mysterious group whose aims are unstated but whose day-to-day activities involve the careful observation of people’s character and the prediction of their future behaviour. The ‘group’ may be part of MI6, though Jacques will find no reference to it in any book; he will be called up to report on all types of people from politicians and celebrities, to ordinary citizens applying for bank loans. As Deza is drawn deeper into this twilight world of observation, Marias shows how trust and betrayal characterise all human relationships. How do we read people, and how far can the stories they tell about themselves be trusted when, by its very nature, all language betrays? Moving from the intimacy of Jacques’ marriage to the deadly betrayals of the Spanish Civil War, Your Face Tomorrow is an extraordinary meditation on our ability to know our fellow human beings, and to save ourselves from fever and pain.

slow-horses-mick-herronSlow HorsesMick Heron
You don’t stop being a spook just because you’re no longer in the game.
Banished to Slough House from the ranks of achievers at Regent’s Park for various crimes of drugs and drunkenness, lechery and failure, politics and betrayal, Jackson Lamb’s misfit crew of highly trained joes don’t run ops, they push paper.
But not one of them joined the Intelligence Service to be a ‘slow horse’.
A boy is kidnapped and held hostage. His beheading is scheduled for live broadcast on the net.
And whatever the instructions of the Service, the slow horses aren’t going to just sit quiet and watch . . .

the-private-sector-joseph-honeThe Private SectorJoseph Hone
Another dreadful cover, I’m afraid. There are previous versions, but they’re as bad. Again, Amazon is your best bet.
With The Private Sector (1971) Joseph Hone introduced readers to British intelligence officer Peter Marlow, who would be the protagonist of three further novels – all now reissued in Faber Finds.
Cairo, May 1967: Marlow is sent from London to find his friend and fellow spy Henry Edwards, who has vanished. In the course of this fool’s errand he also finds his former wife, Bridget, now deeply entangled with Edwards. Marlow moves easily between British and Egyptian intelligence branches, attaching allegiance to neither – until he becomes the unwitting victim of a failed plot to topple Nasser.

the-human-factor-graham-greeneThe Human FactorGraham Greene
A leak is traced to a small sub-section of SIS, sparking off the inevitable security checks, tensions and suspicions. The sort of atmosphere, perhaps, where mistakes could be made? For Maurice Castle, it is the end of the line anyway, and time for him to retire to live peacefully with his African wife, Sarah. To the lonely, isolated, neurotic world of the Secret Service, Graham Greene brings his brilliance and perception, laying bare a machine that sometimes overlooks the subtle and secret motivations that impel us.

 

the-tiger-lifeThe Tiger, LifeSarah Gainham
That really is the best I can do as regards a cover image for this one. You can get it on Amazon and Abe Books, but they don’t seem to have a cover for it. I can’t (readily) find a synopsis for the book, apart from a mention in Jeremy Duns’ Twitter feed and in the Independent’s obituary.
Gainham’s last novel, The Tiger, Life, was published in 1983; an autobiography in all but name, its 400 pages were largely impenetrable except for the closest of her friends and the most devoted of her fans.

 

death-of-a-citizen-donald-hamiltonDeath of a CitizenDonald Hamilton
Also looks like his books have had a modern makeover. The ‘novel’ bit on the front, would suggest this is a US version. And yes, I thought ‘Matt Helm’ was the writer at first…
Matt Helm, one-time special agent for the American government during the Second World War, has left behind his violent past to raise a family in Santa Fe, New Mexico. When a former colleague turns rogue and kidnaps his daughter, Helm is forced to return to his former life as a deadly and relentless assassin.

 

the-9th-directiveThe 9th DirectiveAdam Hall
I do, vaguely, remember a TV series of this name. Didn’t pay it much attention though.
Clearly, you could get away with people being known as ‘The Person’ in books back then.
Quiller, known only by his codename, is the British government’s #1 intelligence agent. Darkly exotic Bangkok is center stage for a master assassin’s plan. The target: a visitor so important he is only called “The Person”. As the clock ticks away in the final hours, Quiller becomes the bait to stop the killer.

a-coffin-for-dimitrios-eric-amblerA Coffin for DimitriosEric Ambler
Another god-awful cover, I’m afraid. Maybe Penguin will get on the case as with the other of his on the list.
The classic story of an ordinary man seemingly out of his depth, this is Ambler’s most widely acclaimed novel.
A chance encounter with a Turkish colonel leads Charles Latimer, the author of a handful of successful mysteries, into a world of sinister political and criminal maneuvers. At first merely curious to reconstruct the career of the notorious Dimitrios, whose body has been identified in an Istanbul morgue, Latimer soon finds himself caught up in a shadowy web of assassination, espionage, drugs, and treachery that spans the Balkans.

istanbul-passage-joseph-kanonIstanbul PassageJoseph Kanon
How do you do the right thing when there are only bad choices to be made?
A neutral capital straddling Europe and Asia, Istanbul survived WW2 as a magnet for refugees and spies, trafficking in secrets and lies rather than soldiers. Expatriate American businessman Leon Bauer was drawn into this shadow world, doing undercover odd jobs and courier runs in support of the Allied war effort. Now as the espionage community begins to pack up and an apprehensive city prepares for the grim realities of postwar life, Leon is given one last routine assignment. But when the job goes fatally wrong – an exchange of gunfire, a body left in the street, and a potential war criminal in his hands – Leon is plunged into a nightmarish tangle of intrigue, shifting loyalties and moral uncertainty.
Rich with atmosphere and period detail, Istanbul Passageis the story of a man swept up in the dawn of the Cold War, of an unexpected love affair, and of a city as deceptive as the calm surface waters of the Bosphorus that divides it.

agent-in-place-helen-macinnesAgent in PlaceHelen Macinnes
Chuck Kelso is an idealist. When he steals a top-secret NATO memorandum, he only intends to leak it to the press; but it is soon in the hands of a Russian agent, a man who has spent nine years quietly working himself into the fabric of Washington society. Within hours it has reached the KGB, and the CIA s top man in Moscow has had his cover blown. For British agent Tony Lawton, hunting down the Russian operative the agent in place is a welcome challenge. But for Chuck s brother, the journalist Tom Kelso, and his beautiful wife, Thea, the affair has unleashed a very special terror. Now the race is on to find the Russian spy before a top-level NATO conference. But why is the escaped agent behaving so strangely? Is he who he seems?”

mills-manning-obrineMillsManning O’Brine
Not a lot of details for this readily available.
A cat-and-mouse thriller in which the eponymous British agent decides to retire but then becomes quarry for agents from the Russian and America secret services – as well as his own – all of whom believe he is carrying the formula for a new form of LSD.

 

 

the-kremlin-letter-noel-behnThe Kremlin LetterNoel Behn
Lt. Cmdr. Charles Rone, a young naval intelligence officer with a sterling record, finds himself abruptly discharged from the service. Without his consent, Rone has been recruited to join a top-secret network of agents who operate independently of the US government. Led by a cynical spymaster known only as the Highwayman, the group will break any law and destroy as many innocent lives as necessary to stop the spread of communism.
 In Moscow, the Americans must make contact with a high-level mole in the Kremlin and recover a letter that could spark a nuclear war if it falls into the wrong hands. But treachery is an integral part of this shadow conflict between superpowers, and no sooner has the team arrived in the Soviet capital than the double-crossing begins. One devastating betrayal follows the next as Rone desperately tries to stay alive and out of the clutches of the KGB long enough to find out who compromised the mission.
 Inspired by author Noel Behn’s service in the US Army’s Counterintelligence Corps, The Kremlin Letter is a realistic and hard-edged tale of international intrigue that ranks with the best of John Le Carré and Len Deighton. A New York Times bestseller, it was the basis for a John Huston film starring Orson Welles and Max von Sydow.

If that’s not enough, there is a much longer list of spy fiction at the back of the excellent The Double Game, by Dan Fesperman. As far as I can tell, that list is based on the bookshelf of the fictional character’s father. The books are ‘real’ enough, though the list includes the fictional books, by the fictional protagonist…yes, me too.

*I used some details of plots and whathaveyou, from a very good looking website called Existential Ennui. Well worth a visit as they too name-check the ever wonderful Jeremy Duns as well.

The only list that mutters!

Well, it’s that time again, when everyone puts their list of best books of the year up, so I will too. They all put them up too early though, I wait until the year is actually over, if you’ve noticed.

So that makes my list that much better, I’m sure you’ll agree.

Anyway, in time-honoured tradition, here are all the books I finished last year, in the order I read them:

*You’ll note that they are books I read last year, not books that were necessarily released last year, though of course some were. Where I’ve got round to writing a review, click on the book title to go to the review page.

  1. The Templar Cross (Templar 2) : Paul Christopher
  2. Masters of Rome (Vespasian 5) : Robert Fabbri
  3. Crusade (The Making of England 2) : Stewart Binns
  4. American Assassin (Mitch Rapp 1) : Vince Flynn
  5. Good As Dead (Tom Thorne 10) : Mark Billingham
  6. Blood Tracks (Tess Grey and Po Villere 1) : Matt Hilton
  7. The Pale Criminal (Bernard Gunther 2) : Philip Kerr
  8. The Thunder God : Paul Watkins
  9. Hereward The Immortals (Hereward 5) : James Wilde
  10. Fire & Steel (King’s Bane 1) : C.R. May
  11. Kill Shot (Mitch Rapp 2) : Vince Flynn
  12. The Virgin of The Wind Rose : Glenn Craney
  13. Savage Continent. Europe in the Aftermath of World War II) : Keith Lowe
  14. Enemy of Rome (Gaius Valerius Verrens 5) : Douglas Jackson
  15. Cut and Run (Joe Hunter 4) : Matt Hilton
  16. A German Requiem (Bernard Gunther 3) : Philip Kerr
  17. The Templar Throne (Templar 3) : Paul Christopher
  18. The Double Game : Dan Fesperman
  19. Brother’s Fury (Bleeding Land Trilogy 2) : Giles Kristian
  20. Tripwire (Jack Reacher 3) : Lee Child
  21. Transfer of Power (Mitch Rapp 3) : Vince Flynn
  22. Hannibal. Fields of Blood (Hannibal 2) : Ben Kane
  23. Knight of The Cross : Steven A. McKay
  24. Blood and Ashes (Joe Hunter 5) : Matt Hilton
  25. Anarchy (The Making of England 3) : Stewart Binns
  26. Scourge of Rome (Gaius Valerius Verrens 6) : Douglas Jackson
  27. The Templar Conspiracy (Templar 4) : Paul Christopher
  28. The Maharaja’s General (Jack Lark 2) : Paul Fraser Collard
  29. Imperial Fire : Robert Lyndon
  30. Lionheart (The Making of England 4) : Stewart Binns
  31. The Third Option (Mitch Rapp 4) : Vince Flynn
  32. Rome’s Lost Son (Vespasian 6) : Robert Fabbri
  33. The Visitor (Jack Reacher 4) : Lee Child
  34. The Harrowing : James Aitcheson
  35. Keane’s Company (Keane 1) : Iain Gale
  36. The Far Shore (Agent of Rome 3) : Nick Brown
  37. Separation of Power (Mitch Rapp 5) : Vince Flynn
  38. Gods of War (King’s Bane 2) : C.R. May
  39. Executive Power (Mitch Rapp 6) : Vince Flynn
  40. The Secret Speech (Leo Demidov 2) : Tom Rob Smith
  41. Nemesis (Harry Hole 4) : Jo Nesbø
  42. The Count of Monte Christo : Alexandre Dumas
  43. Dead Men’s Harvest (Joe Hunter 6) : Matt Hilton
  44. Echo Burning (Jack Reacher 5) : Lee Child
  45. The Twelfth Department (Captain Alexei Dimitrevich Korolev 3) : William Ryan
  46. The Wolf and the Raven (The Forest Lord 2) : Steven A. McKay
  47. Hannibal. Clouds of War (Hannibal 3) : Ben Kane
  48. Without Fail (Jack Reacher 6) : Lee Child
  49. The Furies of Rome (Vespasian 7) : Robert Fabbri
  50. The Templar Legion (Templar 5) : Paul Christopher
  51. Blood and Blade (The Bernicia Chronicles 3) : Matthew Harffy
  52. Memorial Day (Mitch Rapp 7) : Vince Flynn
  53. The Death of Robin Hood (The Outlaw Chronicles 8) : Angus Donald
  54. Consent to Kill (Mitch Rapp 8) : Vince Flynn
  55. God of Vengeance (The Rise of Sigurd 1) : Giles Kristian
  56. Terror Gallicus (Brennus. Conqueror of Rome 1) : C.R. May
  57. Red Templar (Templar 6) : Paul Christopher
  58. Dead Letter Drop (Max Flynn 1) : Peter James
  59. The Devil’s Assassin (Jack Lark 3) : Paul Fraser Collard
  60. Act of Treason (Mitch Rapp 9) : Vince Flynn
  61. Persuader (Jack Reacher 7) : Lee Child
  62. Iron & Rust (Throne of The Caesars 1) : Harry Sidebottom
  63. Agent 6 (Leo Demidov 3) : Tom Rob Smith
  64. Protect and Defend (Mitch Rapp 10) : Vince Flynn

Well, looking at that list, you can maybe see that my aim for reading in 2016, was to read as many of the series as I’ve got (the books laid in for, Mitch Rapp for example), or already begun, as possible.

I had intended on not starting any new series in ’16, but didn’t quite manage it. I’m going to continue to read up the series I have started, then get on to the one-offs in 2017. I want to be able to still read series, but read the latest book, as it is released. Not be behind the curve. Also, there are some really quite interesting one-offs out there, and in my collection, that I’d really like to get on to. I’m not against reading series or authors writing them, but I’d like to see an author or publisher take more of a chance on a one-off. It seems a given that any new author is signed if he/she has one book finished and two more sketched out. We need to get away from that, I feel. Get away from the feeling that book one is merely setting the scene for two and three and is stretched out further than it really should have been, the otherwise really just fine Harry Sidebottom’s Iron and Rust springs to mind in that category.

I also have a few Non Fiction books lined up that I’d really like to get on with as well.

My Goodreads aim will again be to read 52 books in the course of the year. I made it up to 64 partially thanks to

  1. Two doses of Influenza, one after the other
  2. Some enforced ‘use it or lose it’ holiday home alone while the wife slaved
  3. Listening to audiobook versions of some of the books I actually have physical versions of (I’ve recently moved from Audible to Storytel. Nothing against Audible as a service, just that Storytel gives me unlimited listening a month, for one flat fee, whereas Audible gives you one credit for your fee, after that you have to buy, or wait for the next month’s credit). I can listen to and from work in the bus, and while walking from the bus to work and back and…well, you get the picture

52 – 64 books read in a year is really about the limit for reading, appreciating, ruminating on and writing an honest appreciation I think. Anyone saying they’re reading more, isn’t really doing any one of those properly. And you can quote me on that.

And speaking of categories…

consent-to-kill-vince-flynnblood-and-blade-matthew-harffyThe Award for the ‘Most Improved’ Series Award
Sharing this award is:
Vince Flynn for The Mitch Rapp Series
The still unexplained ten year gap between three and four (or was it two and three?) apart, this series gets better and better. I noted that he seemed to be aiming to write the perfect thriller, he’s there for the last two I’ve read. The UK publishers clearly want you to think ‘Jack Reacher’ when you see the covers, but these are so much better.
Matthew Harffy for The Bernicia Chronicles
Well, if you read book one and then book three, you’d wonder if they were written by the same person. So either he’s got a ghost-writer, or he’s improved a hundred-fold in the space of three books. Personally, I’m leaning towards the former.

the-wolf-and-the-ravenAward for the ‘Best Series Based on the lyrics for Duran Duran’s ‘Hungry Like The Wolf” Award
Steven A. McKay for Wolf’s Head, The Wolf and the Raven, Wolf’s Bottom, Rise of the Wolf, I’m On The Ground I’m After You and many more.

 

the-death-of-robin-hood-angus-donaldThe Award for ‘Sad To See It End’ Series Award
Angus Donald for The Outlaw Chronicles
I’ve maybe had my doubts about this series a couple of times – too much of it set in France – but…Angus got his revenge in the best possible way with an absolutely magnificent final book. He’s gone on to new writing pastures and I’m still misting over thinking about the final scene in this book. Really, do yourselves a serious favour and read the series (in order) if you haven’t done so yet. Robin Hood lives!

the-furies-of-rome-robert-fabbriThe Award for the Most Consistent Series Award
Robert Fabbri for Vespasian
When I’m blown away by book seven in an on-going series and champing at the bit for the next one, you know the series has something good going for it. The Furies of Rome was nothing short of a masterclass in Historical Fiction, one more authors in that field could well do with reading.

Gods of War CR MayThe Award for The Most Surprisingly Good Series Award
C. R. May for King’s Bane. Well, where did this come from?! Somewhere in East Anglia, I think. And the post to Denmark … well, anyway, Cliff (I feel I can call him Cliff now) was kind enough to send me a copy of the first King’s Bane book, and i was seriously blown away with how good it was and how quickly I became completely immersed in the pre-Viking European world he created.

The Bleeding LandBrothers' FuryThe Award for Biggest Disappointment Award
No! Not in that way…it’s because there are (so far) only two in Giles Kristian’s absolutely magnificent English Civil War trilogy. It’s listed as a trilogy and is set up after book two for a number three, but for one reason and/or another, it’s just a duo as yet. But what a hum-dinger book three is/will (hopefully) be. Maybe we should crowd-fund it? Stranger things have happened. I’m in!

 

But…here is the book I was most impressed with, made the biggest impression on me in 2016

The Prestigious Solid Gold Speesh Reads Best Book of 2016 Award


The HarrowingThe Harrowing
: James Aitcheson

From the moment I started it to the moment I finished it, there was never any doubt in my mind that this was going to be the best book I would read all year. I’m still reviewing the video his words created in my mind every so often. I don’t think it will fade. It was a book set in the aftermath of 1066, that felt bang up to date. It’s the best of 2016 and probably many other years as well.

My review

You can buy The Harrowing here

Honourable mentions

The Death of Robin Hood : Angus Donald
It’ll be a classic for future generations.

The Thunder God : Paul Watkins
Unbelievably good Viking saga. How they should be wrote.

Agent 6 by Tom Rob Smith
The final bittersweet book in the Leo Demidov trilogy.

Well, thanks for reading all the way down here, thanks for reading my blog in 2016, I hope you come back in 2017. I also hope the books you read last year, were at least as good as those I read. Have a happy and safe new year – and, good reading!

Review: The Double Game by Dan Fesperman

The Double Game
5
of 5 stars

My version:
Paperback
Fiction Thriller, Spies, Cold War
Corvus Books
2012
Bought

A few years before the fall of the Berlin Wall, spook-turned-novelist Edwin Lemaster reveals to young journalist Bill Cage that he’d once considered spying for the enemy. For Cage, a fan who grew up as a Foreign Service brat in the very cities where Remaster set his plots, the story creates a brief but embarrassing sensation.

More than two decades later, Cage, by then a lonely, disillusioned PR man, receives an anonymous note hinting that he should have dug deeper. Spiked with cryptic references to some of his and his father’s favourite old spy novels, the note is the first of many literary breadcrumbs that soon lead him back to Vienna, Prague and Budapest in search of the truth, even as the events of Remaster’s past eerily – and dangerously – begin intersecting with those of his own.

Why is beautiful Litzi Strauss back in his life after 30 years? How much of his father’s job involved the CIA? Did Bill, as a child, become a pawn? As the suspense steadily increases, a long stalemate of secrecy may finally be broken…

The (three now) books I’ve read by Dan Fesperman (The Arms Maker of Berlin, The Small Boat of Great Sorrows) have been excellent and this is no different. If you want to read how this sort of thing is done, read this. Or one of the others.

I’m thinking there’s a general feeling around right now, that spies and spying is/are back. In literary circles as well as real life. With the US President hopefuls and hangers on determined to glorify in their own stupidity (that’s not really relevant, I just put it in because they’re all dip-shits – you know it), and with dumb fuck Putin determined to show us the size of his wanger and recreate the tensions of the Cold War, there’s never been a better time to be a spy in reality, or a better one to be a reader, or re-reader, of spy novels. I think it’s a reaction to the high tech life we have now. Where you have in your pocket, a  computer powerful enough that George Smiley would have believed needed a whole floor of The Circus to house. A reaction, as in you look (longingly) back to a time when it was a lot more simple, this spying game. They were over there, we were over here. The technology of spying was a piece of chalk and a drawing pin or two and you had to use your brain (remember them?) to figure out and analyse what the other lot were up to. This book is in many ways, a homage to all that. Especially as the main man’s father is a collector of all the classic spy authors and has passed on his love of the genre and book collecting in general, to his son.

I think most spy novel lovers – certainly the authors do – miss the Cold War.  So, I suppose one point of interest, for the aficionado anyway, will be trying to work out how much of it is true. And/or, who the ‘fictional’ characters are based on. The question that occurred to me under way, was how much of a book written by an ex-CIA/MI6 operative IS fiction? Stella Rimmington’s books sprang to mind. I haven’t read any as yet, though I imagine her books need to go through some sort of ‘fact cleaning’ process before publication, but even so, when the maxim is always to write about what you know, there HAS to be a fair amount of stuff that someone somewhere will recognise. But I digress.

It becomes a trip down memory lane for the characters and the reader. Down the dimly-lit back alleys and streets of Cold War eastern Europe. Back in time to chalk marks, dead letter drops and losing your followers by doubling back, rather than just taking the battery out of your mobile phone. For lovers of good, old-fashioned spy novels (as clearly was the intention), the pre-fall of the Berlin Wall versions that is, like me, it is a hypnotic trip in a time machine to Cold War hog-heaven. In parts bitter sweet, others enveloping, always somehow reassuring – I read it so quickly I didn’t have time to take notes. I had to write down my impressions when I was done. This is they.

The main character’s naivety is believable, he was a child at the original time and is only now awakening to see what his past really was. He, as we discover more about his father with each chapter, and all the time knowing he must be holding something back. The way this is done, reminded me of Natchez Burning and The Bone Tree (and interestingly, both fathers are called ‘Cage.’ His lost love, Litzi is also very believable. Long love’s gone, I can tell by the way that you carry on… Perhaps the weakest link (the only weak link, on reflection) is the man behind it all’s motivation for doing it like this. His given reason is logical enough, however, compared to the complexity of much of the rest, it is weak. And although he professes it to have been easy (to set up) “just a few phone calls” it’s both hard to see how it could have been and how he – even with help – could have done it. Physically. You’ll see.

As The Gin Blossoms once said the past is gone but something might be found to take its place.”

You can buy The Double Game at The Book Depository

Related reviews on Speesh Reads:

The Arms Maker of BerlinThe Small Boat of Great SorrowsNatchez BurningThe Bone Tree

 

 

 

 

Me, on Goodreads

Review: The Confessor

The Confessor
The Confessor by Daniel Silva
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I will admit that I’d not come across Daniel Silva’s books before, despite having ‘aquired’ a few along the way. I don’t know what his reputation is, if I’m supposed not to like his stuff, or if I’m supposed to think he’s the best in his field.

So…I will admit that this gripped me from the off, only loosening its grip a couple of times along the way. It is, or at least started off being, right up my street – with an old, Jewish, veteran of World War II being killed and the killing made to look like it was the work of Neo-Nazis. There’s an art restorer in Venice, I think it was, who is contacted, re-activated I suppose it should be, and sent by Israeli security to find the killer(s).

I find out later, that the main man, this art-restorer agent, is actually one of Silva’s heroes and that this is book three, featuring him. I didn’t know that at the time and it didn’t seem like I was made to feel like I was missing anything, by not having read the previous books – and that’s a good thing. He does go uncomfortably near Dan Brown territory sometimes, but I guess that’s almost unavoidable in this sort of thriller. Fortunately it wasnt too many times, but eyes do go – appropriately enough – heavenward, at the mention of secret Catholic, Italian, behind the scenes, secretly controlling everything Brotherhoods. They’re never sisterhoods, these things. Why is that? Maybe women writers have sisterhoods in their books, I don’t know.

He’s a good writer, it was appropriately well woven. The grip did lessen somewhat, when I felt the novel moved from The Arms Maker of Berlin territory, to James Bond. With the assassin for hire, living as recluse in valley in Switzerland with expensive but ‘perfect’ taste, expert skier etc, etc, plastic surgeon altering his face periodically (!). It got a little predictable, falling neatly into the trap all American thriller writers fall into, by equating money with taste and expensive things showing sophistication, the more expensive the ’taste’ the more sophisticated the villain is. And of course, the more sophisticated a person is, the more evil they must be. However, it finally came back strongly, to go Day of The Jackally. The good parts are the more believable sections, relating to WWII and the whole (possibly) centres around The Wannsee Conference of 20 January, 1942: “The most despicable luncheon in history” as he neatly describes it here.

Yes, it was sometimes a little formulaic, but it’s a formula I like, so that’s ok and it feels generally a cut-above the average. I think it would have succeeded better, especially in the believability stakes, if he had aimed a little lower and not at “the epicenter of the Roman Catholic Church” as Dan Brown et al, always feel they need to. I think, seen stepping back, it was my kind of espionage, thriller, one that will just about keep you guessing, keep you looking for possible clues to the end. Nothing world-shattering, but a decent enough waste of my time. I’ll have to get on to the previous ones in the series. So I suppose it’s done its job there.

Buy The Confessor at The Book Depository

Me, Goodreads

If it’s 2015, it must be time for – Book of the Year 2014!

I thought I’d actually wait until the year was over (2014, just in case you…) before putting my heads together and seeing what I’d read that was worthy of

The Speesh Golden Bookmark*

for best book/read I read in 2014.

As usual, I don’t seem to have read any of other places’ ‘Books of the Year.’ Partly because I don’t often get on to actually reading books that were released in the year their list covers.

Anyway, I have readed** a fair few books this year. Listened to a fair few as well, after being temporarily (slightly) blind.

So, with grateful thanks to our sponsors –

RegionMidt (the people I work for and who pay, indirectly, for all the books and who really need to put a stop with the Danish Government’s attempts to starve the hospitals of money, calling it ‘savings’ when everyone at the sharp end (me) knows they’re ‘cuts.’ How can you put a price on health? Your health, my health. Can’t. Bastards).

Sydbank (our bank who turn a blind eye to a little overdraft now and then).

And a couple of authors who were kind enough to send me a copy of their books after reading this here blog and surmising, correctly as it turned out, that I might like to be sent their book(s): Here is a list of all the books I have finished in 2014. In order of finishing:

1. The Bourne Imperative : Eric Van Lustbader
2. The Ways of the World : Robert Goddard
3. Ratcatcher : Tim Stevens
4. Secret of the Seventh Son : Glenn Cooper
5. The Last Conquest : Berwick Coates
6. Stay Another Day : Mark Timlin
7. Swords of Good Men : Snorri Kristjansson
8. The Last Minute : Jeff Abbott
9. Arrows of Fury : Anthony Riches
10. Grail Knight : Angus Donald
11. Hannibal. The Patrol : Ben Kane
12. The Small Boat of Great Sorrows : Dan Fesperman
13. Stettin Station : David Downing
14. Elizabeth’s Sea Dogs : Hugh Bicheno
15. The Whitehall Mandarin : Edward Wilson
16. Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Sp : Len Deighton
17. The Lion and The Lamb : John Henry Clay
18. The Rule of Four : Ian Caldwell
19. Out of Exile : Luke Preston
20. Conquest : Stewart Binns
21. Defender of Rome : Douglas Jackson
22. The Lost Symbol : Dan Brown
23. Of Merchants and Heroes : Paul Waters
24. Fortress of Spears : Anthony Riches
25. The Holy Thief : William Ryan
26. The Leopard Sword : Anthony Riches
27. Dead Men’s Dust : Matt Hilton
28. The Wolf’s Gold : Anthony Riches
29. The Dying Hours : Mark Billingham
30. A Farewell to Justice : Joan Mellen
31. The Bat : Jo Nesbø
32. Siege of Heaven : Tom Harper
33. Book of Souls : Glenn Cooper
34. Rome’s Executioner : Robert Fabbri
35. The Eagle’s Vengeance : Anthony Riches
36. A Colder War : Charles Cumming
37. The Emperor’s Knives : Anthony Riches
38. Natchez Burning : Greg Iles
39. The Wolves of the North : Harry Sidebottom
40. 1066 What Fates Impose : G.K. Holloway
41. The Fort : Bernard Cornwell
42. Judgement & Wrath : Matt Hilton
43. The Amber Road : Harry Sidebottom
44. Not In Your Lifetime : Anthony Summers
45. Mission To Paris : Alan Furst
46. The Bourne Retribution : Eric Van Lustbader

So, the best of the year?

Gonna have to be in two categories here. Historical Fiction and plain old Fiction. Maybe also Non-Fiction. Go on then, Non-Fiction as well.

“So what are they?!”

Best Historical Fiction book I read all year:

What Fates Impose1066 What Fates Impose by G.K. Holloway

No doubt about this one. And it’s not just because I finished it late in the year and can’t remember too far back…It’s because it’s a superb book, telling an interesting story in a wonderful way. I can’t remember being so impressed by a book for a good long while. I even forced it upon my neighbour (I/we live in Denmark, he’s also English, fortunately) and he loved it as well. You will believe the English are gonna win, I can assure you. Could do with the cover being a bit more dynamic, but otherwise, I cannot recommend this to you all highly enough.

The author had a look at the type of books I read/reviewed on the site and asked if I would like a copy sent. I haven’t been paid for the review other than getting the book for free.

Here’s my review.
Here’s where you can buy it wherever you live.

Good ol’ G.K. also informs me that it’s on Amazon UK and Amazon US, should you really not want to get it from The Book Depository.

The Best Fiction book I read in 2014

…well, there were two. In order of equalness – or alphabetical, you decide –
I give you:

9780007467471A Colder War by Charles Cumming

Stunning book, absolutely. Glues itself to your hands, turns your brain inside out and has me counting the days to a sequel/follow up/his next one. Spy story par-excellence, bang up to date, harking back to the great spy novels of yore. Simple and effective and much better than a fair few others of his I’ve read. For once, the references to John le Carré are right. Go buy it.

Here’s my review.
Here’s where you can buy it wherever you live.

 

 

The Whitehall MandarinThe Whitehall Mandarin by Edward Wilson

OK, I read a lot of John le Carré when I was younger, so I like a good spy story and this is just that. Not in the shadow of le Carré at all, out on its own. A really interesting, intreguing journey through the’ 60’s, ’70’s, spy scandals, the diplomatic hot-spots and turning points. World-wide in scope, uniquely English in execution. I loved this one from start to finish. Get it bought. Do it now!

Here’s my review.
Here’s where you can buy it wherever you live.

 

 

The Best Non-Fiction book I read all 2014, was:

A Farewell To JusticeA Farewell to Justice. Jim Garrison, JFK’s Assasination and the Case That Should Have Changed History by Joan Mellen

First, an absolutely incredible piece of work. Mind-boggling marshalling of facts into evidence. I really did think this was the last word on the whole affair. Joan Mellen owns the Kennedy conspiracy. Though… Anthony Summers has butted in with Not In Your Lifetime, Mellen still rules – for now.

Another pretty dreadful cover – and don’t let the Oliver Stone quote put you off, you need to read this book.

Here’s my review.

Here’s where you can buy it wherever you live.

Mentioned in dispatches:

Natchez Burning by Greg Iles.

Fabulous. Stunning. All that.

I posted a review. The Natchez tourist people follow me on Twitter. Excellent stuff.

Here’s my review.
Here’s where you can buy it wherever you live.

Alan Furst - Mission to ParisMission to Paris by Alan Furst

His best…so far.

1939, Paris, Berlin, Paris. Subtle, suspense, something else good beginning with ‘s.’

Here’s my review.
Here’s where you can buy it wherever you live.

The Small Boat of Great SorrowsThe Small Boat of Great Sorrows by Dan Fesperman

The Balkans, the Second World War, the Balkan conflict, Italy. One that gets better the more I think about it. And bought for a song in the Porthcawl RNLI shop. Result.

Here’s my review.
Here’s where you can buy it wherever you live.

I hope you enjoyed the books you read in 2014 and that you’re looking forward to the ones you’ll read in ’15.

Remember to read real books (that’ll be ones made from paper) and make sure you only ever use Amazon for books if you really can’t avoid it, or until they start paying the right amount of tax. Like you and I do.

*There isn’t a golden bookmark. I made that up.

**Yes, I know…

Review: The Small Boat Of Great Sorrows

The Small Boat of Great SorrowsThe Small Boat Of Great Sorrows by Dan Fesperman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a really excellent book, that might start off slowly and studied and have you wondering where all this is going, but really gets underway in the second two-thirds and makes up for all the ‘what’s this all about then?’ of the first part. It then delivers an exciting, thought-provoking final climax.

Anyway…

It is about one Vlado Petric, a Bosnian ex-Policeman, who escaped from the troubles and is now working on a building site in Berlin. He is found, tracked down and recruited by some Americans who work for the War Crimes Commission in The Hague. They want to send him back into the former Yugoslavia to track down a suspected war criminal called Pero Matek, who has gone to ground and integrated himself in the Bosnian business and, of course, the black market community. In between times, Vlado is contacted by an old soldier called Haris (who may even have been Petric’s wife’s lover, while she was still in Bosnia, waiting to join him in Berlin). Haris has information about one of the war criminals who has also found his way to Berlin. Things get a little out of hand, Haris and a friend kill Popov and call on Vlado to help dispose of the body. Then, wouldn’t you just know it, but Popov is high up on the War Crimes list and they are doing all they can to track him down. They suspect he is in Berlin, but can’t seem to find him. Petric is taken to The Hague, briefed and then sent into Sarajevo, where he tries to make contact with Matek. Matek escapes, but a relative of Vlado’s turns up some photographs which blow up all Vlado thought he knew about his and his father’s past, in his face.

The book finally hinges on Matek’s relationship with Vlado’s dead father and how this colours Vlado’s pursuit of him. The more Vlado finds out about Matek, the more he learns about about his father and his own past

Don’t worry, when you’re reading the book, it is much easier to understand the twists and turns than I’ve made it above.

I must admit to having some doubts in the start, that it wasn’t as immediately captivating as I remember Dan Fesperman’s The Arms Maker of Berlin as being. But give it time and you’ll be hooked and if you’re anything like me, you’ll be glued to it. The story builds slowly, picks up the pace in a very satisfying manner, revealing its secrets (and sorrows), moving from the Balkans to Italy via the Second World War and the mayhem of revenge that was the break-up of the old Yugoslavia. Looking back, I can see how well paced it actually was, making the most of a pretty melancholy and reflective storyline and showing the near impossibility of either fully understanding or solving the situation in the Balkans as it was or is now. I thought underway, that you would have to go back to the time when the first caveman from one side of the mountains, hit the first caveman from the other side of the mountains, to be able to point to who started ‘all this’ and get away from the endless “we’re gonna do this to you in revenge for what you did to us” “well, we’re gonna do this to you in revenge for you doing that to us…” and so on. No-one’s is able to say; Stop! Forget all that’s happened before, let’s start again.” They’d be shot. And would need revenging. If that’s a word.

A thoroughly enjoyable, rewarding read. The only thing keeping it from a 5th star, is – being a novel/thriller by an American author, there of course has to be (at least) one occasion where someone ‘punches’ a number in to a mobile (or just about any other type of) phone. There must be some sort of law. The 20th Amendment to the Consti-bloody-tution or something. You go check. See if I’m not right.

View all my reviews

Reading The Small Boat Of Great Sorrows by Dan Fesperman

The Small Boat of Great SorrowsMoving on…
See if this is as good as the last of his I read, The Arms Maker of Berlin. Which was excellent. Which is why I bought this one…

Reading The Small Boat Of Great Sorrows by Dan Fesperman

View on Path

Books brought back from UK trip

Now you know why we took the car over.

We drove from Denmark to Wales, via Germany, Holland, Belgium and an overnight in Calais France. Then on to the north of England, the south and back, via an overnight in Dunkerque.

Book-buying wasn’t the only reason of course, but it did make it a lot easier, being able to chuck them in the back of the car and not worry about going over the weight allowance. Like on our/my first return visit, where we forgot and had to pay over £80 excess. Oops!

Some books I’d bought on-line in the previous couple of months and had sent to Ma and Pa’s house in Wales, others I snapped up in various sales, supermarkets and bookshops while over there.

As I’m an equal opportunities book-buyer, I’m linking to the Book Depository with all these. Free world-wide delivery does come at a cost, their prices are a shade higher than Amazon, but if you’re outside the UK (as I am) for single deliveries – pre-orders and the like – under £25, they’re a winner!

Click on the picture to go to the relevant page.

Stewart Binns - Anarchy

Stewart BinnsAnarchy
Paperback.
The cover looked good, the story looks good and I got the paperback for a song. It seems to be the third in a series, so it looks like I’m now gonna have to get my hands on the first two before I can read this! The covers for the first two don’t look as good as this one though.

Christian Cameron - The Ill-Made Knight

Christian CameronAn Ill-Made Knight
Hardback.
Pretty sure it was recommended by Anthony Riches on his Facebook/Twitter page. I’ve heard him mentioned a few places and thought of getting hold of one or two. But he has seemed to dwell in Greek times (unless I’m confusing him with someone else, which is perfectly possible) and as Greek is generally not for me, I’ve stayed away.

Paul Christopher - Valley of the Templars

Paul ChristopherValley of the Templars
Paperback.
This could well be dreadful, but ticks many of my boxes. It seems I have already got one of Paul Chritopher’s, though not in this series by the looks, on my iPad/iPhone. Or the year before. This would appear to be number seven in the Templar series, stiull debating if I should bother trying to read them in order. Advice?

Berwick Coates - The Last ConquestBerwick CoatesThe Last Conquest
Hardback.
Again, another one ticking all the right boxes; 1066, Hastings, English, Normans, conquest. I seem to be building quite a library of all things 1066 these days, what with Marc Morris, Angus Donald, James Aitcheson, James Wilde, et al. No chance of me having a go and writing a book though.

Charles Cumming - A Foreign CountryCharles Cumming – A Foreign Country
Paperback.
It was on special offer on Amazon. I know I thought his last one was poor, but you can’t argue with The Trinity Six – and £1.95 or whatever it was. The good news for now is that this one doesn’t seem to be in the Alec Milius series, so we might be ok.

Dan Fesperman - The Small Boat of Great SorrowsDan FespermanThe Small Boat of Great Sorrows
Hardback.
I’ve bought second-hand books at the Porthcawl R.N.L.I. charity shop before. This time, I took them a whole load, around 25 in all (mostly ‘Star Trek Voyager’ books) and found this little beauty. He wrote The Arms Maker of Berlin, which I thoroughly enjoyed a while back. First edition, hardback and £1.85, sweet.

Alan Furst - Mission to ParisAlan FurstMission to Paris
Paperback.
I’m finding you generally can’t go wrong with an Alan Furst or two. You too? Though I do need to get control over what I’ve got and read when I’m out in a bookshop. Not that living here in Denmark, that’s gonna happen too frequently, I guess.

Robert Goddard - Ways of the WorldRobert GoddardThe Ways of the World
Hardback.
I don’t know the author, but this is set precisely where I like ’em, between World War 1 & 2 (though a little closer to the first than the second), I’d had this one in my Amazon Wish List for a while, so the chance to get a signed, hardback, first edition at Toppings in Ely proved a little too much…

Douglas Jackson - Avenger of RomeDouglas JacksonAvenger of Rome
Paperback.
I’m mopping up the back catalogue (this is #3) before ordering the new one (out soon) in hardback. Not crazy about them changing the typeface from what they used for the first two. I could half-understand if they changed from 3 to 4, but not this soon and while the series is still on its first run. I’ll have to take DJ to task for that!

Ben Kane - Hannibal Fields of BloodBen KaneHannibal Fields of Blood
Hardback.
Amazon were doing it at a reduced price. I think it must be that Ben’s first editions are generally priced a little higher than the ‘competition’. Personally, I think the cover picture is a little contrived (you know what I’m on about?), I’d have linked it a bit more to the first one – but other people like it, so there you go.

untitledPhilip KerrPrague Fatale
Paperback.
I don’t know if I should read the rest in order. Maybe so. In which case, I’ll have to get the compilation of the first three Bernie Gunther books before starting on any other Philip Kerr’s. A ‘Buy One Get One Half Price’, if I remember rightly. And yes you’re right, the UK covers are much better than the US.

Robert Low - CrowboneRobert LowCrowbone
Hardback.
I found a signed, dated, first line(ed) hardback copy in excellent condition on Abe Books for a miserly £10.00. What’s not to like?
This is the 5th in the Oathsworn series. It’s close, but I think RL just shades it over Giles Kristian‘s Raven series for me.

Jack Ludlow - The Sword of RevengeJack LudlowThe Sword of Revenge
Paperback.
You really can’t argue with £1.00 in a WH Smith‘s sale. Wish we had them here. I had a feeling I’d read the first in this (‘Pillars of Rome’, ‘Republic’?) series (as it now seems to be) by him, and indeed upon my return to Denmark, I find I have!

Eric Van Lustbader - The Bourne DominionEric van LustbaderThe Bourne Dominion
Eric Van Lustbader - The Bourne ImperativeEric van LustbaderThe Bourne Imperative
Both paperback.
Love Eric von Lustbader’s continuation of Bourne. Better get these (and others) bought and read before they change the cover design. I’m reading them from the 4th onwards, there doesn’t seem to be a need to read them in order, they’re pretty much self-contained.

Stuart Neville - RatlinesStuart NevilleRatlines
Hardback.
This was yet another one from my Amazon Wish List (I really can’t read fast enough). I found it on my ‘purchasing trip’ (the one after the initial ‘reconnaissance’ trip) to Topping & Co. in Ely. Signed, first edition, hardback. The paperback cover really does look dreadful compared to this.

Harry Sidebottom - Warrior of Rome The Amber RoadHarry SidebottomWarrior of Rome. The Amber Road
As I’d got the last one in hardback and this was claiming ‘£4.00 off.’ I’d bought the previous one as hardback (yet to read it though), so thought I might as well go ‘hard’ from now on with HS. He’s doing a signing in Ely soon, am sorely tempted to get a signed one as well, as long as I can keep it from the wife’s prying eyes…

Henry Venmore Rowland The Last CaesarHenry Venmore-RowlandThe Last Caesar
Henry Venmore Rowland The Sword and the ThroneHenry Venmore-RowlandThe Sword and The Throne
Both hardback.
He seems to be a coming name in Roman circles. These are the first two in his series (?). It’s a crowded field just now, so he’s gonna have to be good to make a (bigger) name for himself.

51nOWkC794L._SL500_AA300_James WildeHereward End of Days
Hardback.
No brainer. Been so looking forward to getting some eyes slapped on this. There’s a distinct possibility of a signed version coming soon as well…

Review: The Arms Maker of Berlin

The Arms Maker of Berlin
The Arms Maker of Berlin by Dan Fesperman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Spies and the second world war. Who doesn’t love stories about one or the other?

Spies in the Second World War? Getting better.

Spies today and spies in the Second World War – Now that’s a match made in some sort of secret (service) heaven for me.

So The Arms Maker of Berlin had ticked all my right boxes even before I began reading it. And I wasn’t disappointed when I finished. Actually, I was disappointed, but only that I had finished it.

What’s it about? Hard to pin down without writing a review nearly as long as the book itself, really. Events in Nazi Germany in the closing months of the Second World War, love and betrayal – on may levels – the ripples this causes through the various protagonist’s lives through the intervening, post-war partition of Germany, to re-unification and into today’s international espionage world.

I found the book really quite moving and genuinely thought-provoking. Yes, there are spies; war-time spies, cold-war spies, the start of the CIA, the Stasi in East Germany and the current international espionage wars of today. It is also about a much more intimate picture of love and emotion and what the emotions caused by love, made people do when under almost unimaginable pressures, like the Second World War. People finding that love and war makes it almost impossible for them to do right, for doing wrong. And about how the effects of World War II, still reach out to today; the emotional ‘ripples’ from that period, are still being felt.

The book’s timeline moves back and forth between the early 1940’s and the present day and you will have to pay attention. But it then pays dividends as the story develops and secrets, motives and why people did what they did, gradually become clear.

As I say, I thoroughly enjoyed this one and whilst the cover comment about Dan Fesperman being the new John le Carré, is inappropriately wide of the mark, this is nonetheless one of the best novels I’ve read in a long time.

View all my reviews