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Posts Tagged ‘terrorism’

A DIVIDED SPY by Charles Cumming: Book Review

It is difficult to be a spy, or at least a former spy, these days.  The enmity was clear between the West and the Soviet Union during the Cold War; although those days are long over, deep suspicion remains on both sides.

A Divided Spy is like a tree with a lot of branches.  The branches may appear separate, but in fact they all come together to form the tree.  It’s only when you see the complete picture that it all makes sense.

Thomas Kell is still tenuously connected to the SIS, the Secret Intelligence Service.  He has given his life to the service, but he is now in disgrace due to several assignments that resulted in death and failure, including the one that ended with the assassination of his lover, Rachel.  His ex-wife Claire has told him frequently that his job was more important to him than his marriage, and he concedes that she is right.

Even as he acknowledges that he’s no longer a valued member of the Service, he continues, almost unconsciously, to see enemy agents trying to shove him in front of a moving train or listening to his phone calls or reading his emails.  He knows that the surveillance is probably all in his mind, but that doesn’t mean he’s stopped looking for it.

Thomas gets a call from a former colleague who tells him he’s seen the man whom Kell holds responsible for Rachel’s murder, a man Thomas has long been searching for.  Alexander Minasian has been a top Russian espionage agent for years, and Thomas believes that Minasian knowingly sent Rachel to her death in retribution for an act that Thomas committed.  Now that Alexander has been located, Thomas has his chance to make him pay.

The novel follows the incredibly complex business of espionage.  For every plan Kell makes, there are four or five that are considered and discarded.  First there’s murder, followed by blackmail, followed by detailed preparations to make certain that all goes according to his scheme.  He’s getting virtually no help from the SIS, which considers that his desire for revenge has overwhelmed his rational thought process.  A former colleague, Harold Mowbray, is the man who set all this in motion with his identification of Miasian.  But Kell wonders why he did so and if he can be trusted.

A Divided Spy is more than just a thriller.  It’s a deep look into what a life of lying and spying does to the agent.  As Thomas looks back on his life and its activities, he wonders if perhaps there are compromises that are simply more than the end object is worth.

You can read more about Charles Cumming at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.




ANONYMOUS SOURCES by Mary Louise Kelly: Book Review

Alexandra James, red-haired Cambridge journalist, is always working on a story.  That’s how she keeps her life in order, because if she has too much free time, the memories come barreling back.

Alexandra is employed by the New England Chronicle, and her beat is education.  In a city with Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, to say nothing of other universities across the river (Boston University, Boston College, Simmons, and others too numerous to count), there’s always something going on.  But the new assignment she’s given by the paper’s editor, Hyde Rawlins, is the most intriguing and dangerous one she’s ever covered.

Waiting for a friend at a Cambridge bar, Alex gets a text sent to all Chronicle reporters that a body has been found outside the Eliot House residence at Harvard and asking for a reporter to get there ASAP.  Since Alex is practically around the corner, she texts the editor that she’ll go.

Never a shrinking violet, Alex manages to get past the police lines and into Eliot House but isn’t able to get much information.  Later the university puts out a statement that an alumnus has fallen to his death from one of the House windows; the body is that of Thomas Carlyle, son of the legal adviser to the president of the United States.

Because Thom had just returned from a year at Cambridge University in England and Alex had also been a student there, she convinces Hyde to send her to England to follow the story, to find out why this bright and well-liked young man fell to his death only hours after he returned from his graduate year abroad.  Finding the answers to this question proves much harder and more dangerous than Alex had supposed.

At Cambridge, Alex meets Petronella Black, Thom’s former girlfriend.  She’s a “right piece of work,” according to the “bedder,” or chambermaid, at the college.  When Alex knocks on Petronella’s door there’s a man in her room, Lucien Sly, and it’s very obvious that the two had been in bed together.  It’s only three days after Thom’s death, Alex thinks.  Not much heartbreak here.

The plot line takes the reader from Cambridge, Massachusetts to Cambridge, England, with a stop in Pakistan along the way.  The characters include the wealthy and politically connected Carlyle family, the glamorous and spoiled Petronella Black, the attractive and aristocratic Lucian Sly, Alex’s demanding yet compassionate editor Hyde Rawlins, and the mysterious Pakistani scientist Nadeem Siddiqui.  Each has a distinctive voice and an important presence in the novel.

Alex James is a very appealing heroine.  She’s tough, definitely not shy, and extremely confident in the way she goes about getting a story.  But deep inside her there’s a secret that she’s hidden from nearly everyone.  And, as every mystery reader knows, secrets have a way of not staying hidden.  They often emerge at the most inauspicious times.

Mary Louise Kelly is a broadcast journalist and has the background to make Alex a true-to-life protagonist.  The plot is totally believable, as are the characters.  Anonymous Sources is the first book in what I hope will be a long-running series.

You can read more about Mary Louise Kelly at this web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Reads blog at her web site.











THE TECHNOLOGISTS by Matthew Pearl: Book Review

When something has been around for your whole life (and longer than that), you often don’t think about its beginnings.  I certainly never thought about how the Massachusetts Institute of Technology came into being–it was just always there. But, of course, it had to start sometime, and that time was in 1861 in Boston (not Cambridge, another fact I hadn’t thought about).

The Technologists, Matthew Pearl’s latest historical mystery, takes place in 1868, the year the Institute will hold its first graduation. The middle of the nineteenth century is usually seen as the end of the Industrial Revolution and its incredible technological breakthroughs–the steam engine, the mechanization of cotton mills, the telegraph.

But, of course, these technologies impacted on the lives of workers, many of whom were fearful of losing their livelihood to these improved means of manufacture or transportation.  Then there were those who thought all technology and science was the work of the devil and vowed to oppose any advancements.  And to add to this mix was the immediate rivalry between Harvard College, then a mature two hundred and twenty years old, and the upstart Institute of Technology.

As the novel opens, the Institute is ready to graduate its first class, but it is rapidly running out of funds, its president will shortly suffer a major stroke, and some of its small faculty want to have the school incorporated into the vastly larger and more prestigious Harvard College. To add to these problems, someone is terrorizing Boston with a series of horrific events–a massive collision of boats in the harbor, glass melting in the windows of the Financial District, deadly explosions on the city’s streets.  Many of the citizens of the city are certain that the new Institute is to blame.

Four of the Institute’s students, led by Marcus Mansfield, a “charity scholar” and former worker in the Hammond Locomotive Works, band together to try to use their technical knowledge to find the perpetrator of these crimes. They are a diverse group that, in addition to Marcus, includes his close friend Bob Richards; the lone woman at the Institute, Ellen Swallow; and the student vying for the position of class scholar, Edwin Hoyt.  Working secretly in a basement room of the Institute, they race against time and prejudice to discover what is behind the disasters that are plaguing their city.

The Technologists is a fascinating book.  The city of Boston comes alive.  You can see what life was like in this proud City on a Hill that regarded itself as the Hub of the nation; along with New York, it was the financial center of the country in the nineteenth century.  The city was ruled by a small class of people who came to be known as the Boston Brahmins, people of social connections, money, and educational pedigrees, and many of those leaders were proud alumni of Harvard College.

Indeed, one of the themes running through The Technologists is the fact that Marcus Mansfield is a “factory boy” and, regardless of his expected degree from the Institute, he will never be seen as more than that.  Certainly not in Boston.  And to more than one of the Harvard men, it is inconceivable that Marcus’s friend Bob Richards would have chosen the Institute rather than the College that many of his family had attended.

Matthew Pearl has added to his previous books about Boston–The Dante Club, The Poe Shadow, The Last Dickens–with this excellent novel. You can read more about him at his web site.