Book Review: The Thyssen Affair by Mozelle Richardson

Hi all…

In the mid-80s, I started reading quite a bit of spy novels set during the Cold War. The detente between Russia and the United States echoed in much of the literature of the time, from the stories of Ian Fleming‘s James Bond to the novels of Robert Ludlum, Ira Levin, Frederick Forsyth, and Ken Follett. Depending on where you turned, the Nazi legacy lived on around the world.

So when I saw the description of The Thyssen Affair by Mozelle Richardson, I was excited. Here was a story that brought together remnants of the WWII OSS, its successor agency the CIA, the Israeli Mossad, the Russian KGB, and echoes of Nazi Germany. Plus, it stars Canyon Elliot, a Colorado rancher and retired intelligence officer as the main character. How could I pass it up?

The story begins with Elliot being brought in on a CIA operation by a friend of his – Peter Landis. Peter, currently working at the CIA, was a good friend of his son before he was killed in Vietnam. Peter’s request is simple – take a skull to Munich, Germany, and figure out why the KGB went to the trouble to dig it up from a graveyard on the site of an old POW camp in Fort Reno, Oklahoma. Simple enough, right?

Unfortunately, as with most things, his trip is anything by simple. By the time he gets to New York to head across the Atlantic, he has to lose someone tailing him. But by the time he gets to Munich, he realizes there has to be more to the skull of this German officer, Major Von Stober…

The Thyssen Affair starts quickly and doesn’t let up to the end. And if you like your spy fiction with explosions, gunfire, and knife fights you shouldn’t be disappointed. It’s a chess game between Elliot and the people trying to keep him from the truth but when the lovely KGB agent Anya comes into the picture, she does more than ruffle his feathers as the two leapfrog around Europe.

Richardson’s style reminded me quite a bit of the Ludlum novels I read as a teenager. It’s a quick read with intricate twists and turns, but like with Ludlum, the conspiracies and intrigue are nothing without great characters. Ultimately it’s those characters and the way their backgrounds bubble up to explain their motivations that really made this story work. Sure there’s a great deal of spy vs. spy action as well, but the character details are the glue that holds everything together.

The other aspect of her style I absolutely loved is that this is set in 1980. There are no computers, no cellular phones, no James Bond Q-Branch gadgetry… Elliot and the rest of the gang have to rely on tried and true spy methods. Codebook stuffed in a hollowed out heel of a shoe? Check. Microdot copy of a map to Nazi treasure? Check. Standard hand to hand, knives, and guns? Check. And in most cases, Elliot is forced to use is brains to think his way out of problems more often than not.

As I read along, I couldn’t help but think the book would make a great movie in the style of the James Bond films of the 1960s and 1970s. I’m not sure who they’d get to play Elliot, but perhaps someone like Tommy Lee Jones could pull it off.

The Thyssen Affair was a fast, enjoyable read. If you’re looking for a good spy novel from the Cold War, be sure to check it out!

This review first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up this book and other Cold War spy novels from Barnes & Noble below!

Enhanced by Zemanta

TV Review: Covert Affairs Season Premiere

Hi there…

The first few days on any new job can be tough on anyone. But when you are shot at, caught in a car chase, and grilled by the FBI it’s a bit rougher than most. Annie Walker (Piper Perabo – Coyote Ugly, Beverly Hills Chihuahua) is the focus of a new show on the USA Network that continues the network’s amazing run with smart, unique series.

Covert Affairs introduces us to Walker, one of the CIA’s latest recruits. Even before she’s done with her training, she finds herself thrust in the middle of what should be a simple swap of information. Of course, things in the spy trade are rarely simple. Just ask burned spy Michael Westen (Jeffrey Donovan) on another awesome USA series – Burn Notice.

The new show takes a different tack, pulling viewers into the spy world from the point of view of a new spy as opposed to an experienced one. But Annie’s not alone… She has help from Auggie Anderson (Christopher Gorham – Ugly Betty, Jake 2.0), a blind agent who uses technology and his experience from before the explosion that took his sight to guide Annie through some of the inter-office politics and intrigue she’ll have to deal with.

Her boss Danielle Gallagher (Kari Matchett – House, Mad Men, Leverage) runs the CIA’s Domestic Protection Division and is the wife of Arthur Campbell (Peter Gallagher – The O.C., American Beauty), the director of Clandestine Services for the CIA. Both present formidable challenges to Annie’s career as powerful individuals who can make or break her quickly.

Then there’s Annie’s family… Her sister Danielle (Anne Dudek – House, Mad Men) knows nothing of Annie’s life as a spy, which presents all sorts of twists since she’s living what seems to be her guest house. Danielle’s happy home life threatens to cause Annie just as many issues as her work at the CIA, which I found quite entertaining. Life is messy and this injects just enough mess into Annie’s life to keep her grounded.

Though he doesn’t appear until the second episode, Heroes‘ Sendhil Ramamurthy joins the cast as Jai Wilcox, an agent with family ties to the CIA. I’ll be very interested to see how Wilcox fits into the overall scheme of things in the series.

In the first episode, we meet Annie. She’s a capable, talented agent with a gift for languages plucked from the trainees for a special mission. All she has to do is go in with a pre-programmed phone to sync data with an assassin who wants to trade information for safety in the United States. That doesn’t go well and leads to a series of mini-adventures as the new spy tries to figure out what exactly is going on.

Perabo has been on my radar since seeing Coyote Ugly and The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle back in 2000. But I have to admit that I hadn’t seen her in much since then. Now in her 30s, she seems more sure of herself than ever and hopefully can anchor a television series as the lead actor.

But it was the chemistry between Perabo and Gorham that I found the best part of the first episode. Gorham is another actor I’ve seen here and there but really came onto my radar with Jake 2.0, a series that reinvented the notion of a “Bionic Man” and didn’t last nearly long enough for me. As Gorham’s Auggie and Perabo’s Annie worked together, there seemed to be a fun comic and flirty element that provided a good balance to the show’s action scenes.

My favorite scene between the two characters was when they broke into the morgue and were caught by the authorities. Whether it was the writing that saved the day or the actors themselves, it was entertaining to see them hold to their cover stories when separated and questioned by the FBI. They of course couldn’t come out and say they were spies for the CIA, which isn’t sanctioned for work on domestic soil… so they came up with an amusing cover story involving a particularly kinky fascination…

Once I discovered USA’s Burn Notice, I’ve been a fan for four of five seasons. I’ll be interested to see how Covert Affairs compares to the continued success seen by the other shows on USA like White Collar, Royal Pains, and In Plain Sight. Hopefully Perabo, Gorham, and the rest of the cast can enjoy similar luck!

Be sure to check out the premiere episode on USA this Tuesday night, July 13, 2010, on USA at 10/9 Central. It’s an exciting ride for the first few days of a new CIA recruit!

This article first published on Blogcritics.org here.

–Fitz

p.s. Check out these other great shows from USA Network on DVD!

Enhanced by Zemanta