Get Blog Posts Via Email

View RSS Feed


Posts Tagged ‘espionage’

FINDING KATARINA M. by Elisabeth Elo: Book Review

Natalie March is a dedicated physician, perhaps obsessively so.  Her life is devoted to her surgical practice, nearly to the exclusion of everything else.  Her closest relationship is with her mother, Vera, the daughter of a Ukrainian woman who was sentenced to life in a Soviet prison camp, leaving three-year-old Vera behind to be cared for by the mother’s brother.  For all of Vera’s life, she has assumed that her mother perished in the camp.

Then into Natalie’s Washington, D. C. office comes a young Russian woman who tells her that they are cousins, that their mothers are half-sisters.  Saldana, a young ballerina in a touring company, is in the United States on a thirty-day visa.  Despite Vera’s belief that her mother died decades ago, Saldana tells Natalie that Katarina Melnikova is alive in a remote village in northern Siberia.  The young dancer, who says that her mother pressured her to go with the company to the States and not to return to Siberia, asks Natalie for her help in getting asylum.

Natalie is reluctant and unsure what she can do, but she agrees to look into the situation.  The two women part but make plans to meet in New York City where the ballet company is scheduled to perform soon, and Natalie goes to the rehabilitation center where her mother lives to tell her the nearly unbelievable news.

Vera March suffers from MS and is confined to a wheelchair, and she is both stunned and elated by her daughter’s news.  She definitely wants to meet Saldana and find out everything about her mother and her second family.

Then she tells her daughter that Natalie must go to Siberia to meet her grandmother and the rest of the family.   “I can’t go….I can’t travel anymore,” she says to Natalie.  “I want her to meet you instead.”  Natalie doesn’t want to go, but she promises to think about it more to appease her mother than for any desire to meet her grandmother and her family.

But that afternoon she receives a phone call from the New York City police.  Her business card was found in Saldana’s purse; the young woman was the victim of a homicide.  And so, partly to please her mother and partly to assuage her own guilt at not having immediately agreed to help Saldana, Natalie leaves for Siberia.

Finding Katarina M. is a page-turner.  Natalie’s safe, organized life is turned upside down when she reaches the Soviet Union, and she must make life-altering decisions every step of the way.  Her resourceful and strong character comes across throughout the novel; interestingly, the reader can see how the trip and her wish to meet her aunt and her grandmother have simultaneously strengthened and softened her.

Elisabeth Elo’s second mystery comes five years after her first, and it was well worth the wait.  You will be completely caught up in Natalie’s voyages–the one to Siberia and her internal one of self-discovery.

You can read more about Elisabeth Elo 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.

THE 14TH COLONY by Steve Berry: Book Review

It seems as if the Cold War will never end.  In The 14th Colony, Steve Berry takes readers on a journey from colonial times through World War II up to the present, with secret agreements and hidden agendas all around.

Cotton Malone is retired from the Justice Department, but now he’s been called on for a special mission.  He is asked to do a reconnaissance in the Lake Baikal region of Siberia, not the friendliest landscape on earth.  He’s flying an old World War II Russian plane in order to examine a group of buildings on the border of the lake when suddenly the plane is fired upon and he’s downed.  He manages to get out of the plane only to find himself facing two men in ski masks, carrying automatic rifles.  They fire at Cotton, he fires back, but before the men have a chance to respond, an explosion from a surface-to-air missile kills them both.

Back in the United States, it’s the next to last day of the second term of President Danny Daniels.  Stephanie Nelle is in the midst of an argument with the soon-to-be attorney general, Bruce Litchfield, about getting help to rescue Cotton, but Bruce is adamant.  He says she didn’t run this mission by him, and he sees no need to assist her or Cotton.

There’s no love lost between Bruce and Stephanie, especially since Bruce implemented Stephanie’s ouster as the head of the Justice Department’s Magellan Billet unit, which will take place immediately upon the inauguration of the new president.  In addition, the entire unit will be abolished.  Litchfield exits the office, leaving Stephanie to work out how to rescue Cotton.

At the same time, Department of Justice agent Luke Daniels is following a Russian named Anya Petrova.  Luke’s uncle, the president, has told him to trail the woman and find out what she’s doing.  She’s definitely a “person of interest,” as she’s the lover of Aleksandr Zorin, a former KGB officer.  Coincidentally, or perhaps not, it’s Zorin who lives in one of the builings ndear Lake Baikal and who sent the two men to shoot down Cotton’s plane.

The 14th Colony refers to Canada, and that wording goes back to the 1700s.  During the American Revolution, the colonists invaded Canada (then consisting only of Quebec and Ontario), certain that the Canadians would want to join the thirteen colonies and gain their freedom from England.  The colonists were defeated, but in 1781 (seven years before the colonies would become an independent nation), the Canadian Articles of Confederation stated that British-held Canada could join the U.S. automatically at any time they chose to do so, without even the agreement of the United States.

There’s an incredible amount of history in this novel, starting with the American Revolution and continuing up to today.  The story line  contains not only the plot to annex Canada but nuclear weapons, the 20th amendment to the Constitution, and a secret agreement between the president of the United States and the head of the Roman Catholic Church.

There’s a huge cast of characters in this novel; in addition to those listed above, Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II make an appearance.  The narration moves between Cotton, Stephanie, Aleksandr, and Luke, but thanks to Steve Berry’s excellent writing there’s never any confusion as to whose voice the reader is hearing.  The plot and the writing will hold you in a tight grip until the very end.

You can read more about Steve Berry at this web site.

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

THE CAIRO AFFAIR by Olen Steinhauer: Book Review

Sophie and Emmett Kohl started out as a typical young couple in 1991.  Fresh from Harvard, they married and decided to spend their honeymoon in Europe, avoiding the usual tourist places and going “where history’s happening,” as Emmett described it to his wife.

Emmett’s career took him to various embassies, and Sophie went with him.  Slightly bored but not knowing what she really wanted from life, it was an easy path to take.  And so in 2001, sitting in a Budapest restaurant with Emmett, Sophie is shocked when Emmett confronts her with two startling statements. 

First is the accusation that she had an affair in Cairo with a colleague of his, Stan Bertolli, and that Stan had called Emmett to tell him about it.  Sophie reluctantly admits the affair, telling Emmett that one of the reasons she did this was because he had changed so much in their time in Cairo, emotionally removing himself from their marriage.  “I was lonely, Emmett,”  she said.  “Simple as that.”

The Cairo Affair is a multi-layered story of espionage, love, and betrayal.  The novel opens in the present day, during the “Arab Spring,” but its roots go back to 1991 and Yugoslavia.  When the couple was in in that country two decades ago, they met a woman named Zora Balasevic.  Now Emmett tells a startled Sophie that two years ago Zora, working at the Serbian embassy in Cairo, had tried to enlist him to spy for her country.  Shock number two.

Emmett tells Sophie that he naturally refused but never reported the incident because he wasn’t sure who at the embassy could be trusted.  Eventually his superiors at the embassy realized that information was getting out; Emmett was among those who came under scrutiny because he had been seen with Zora. 

But before the conversation between Emmett and Sophie can go much further, a man walks into the restaurant and shoots and kills Emmett. 

The novel is told from the point of view of several different people, each one telling his/her own version of what happened in the past and what is happening now.  Jibril Aziz is a CIA employee of Libyan descent.  For years he’s been involved in a mysterious project called Stumbler, a project which he believes involves United States government officials’ secret involvement in the Libyan efforts to unseat Muammar Gadhafi.  Unable to convince the powers in charge of his version of events, he takes off for the Mideast to try to control the situation.

Stan Bertolli also has come under scrutiny from his embassy superiors who are trying to plug the information leak.  But while that should be his major concern, he is preoccupied with his longing for Sophie.  And when she contacts him after Emmett is murdered, he tells her to come to Cairo at once and he will help her.

Sophie is now on her own for the first time in her life.  Not knowing whom to trust in Hungary and fearful of any investigation, she returns to Egypt and Stan, although she’s not certain that that’s the best place for her either.

Sophie and Emmett’s lives are filled with secrets and lies, impacting both on Emmett’s career and their relationship with each other.  The Cairo Affair gives readers a look at the price people pay, in both professional and personal terms, when truth gives way to falsehoods and evasions.

You can read more about Olen Steinhauer at this web site.

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