Forever and a Day – Anthony Horowitz – (Harper)
I can’t imagine what a daunting task it must be to be tapped by any writer’s estate to pick up the mantle and continue the life of a signature character; the expectations of fans have to be off the charts. It happens with some regularity nowadays with cornerstone characters like Boston PI Spenser, CIA tough guys Mitch Rapp and Robert Ludlum’s Jason Bourne continuing to live on after the passing of their creators.
I can’t think of a more difficult task than continuing the life and adventures of legendary British spy, Agent 007, James Bond. Bond has been part of the literary and film lexicon since Ian Fleming debuted him in 1953’s Casino Royale. Since Fleming’s passing, no less than eleven writers have taken on the task of continuing the Bond saga, if you include a Bond biography and the series of so-called “Young Bond” books.
Bestselling author Anthony Horowitz is the latest to take on Bond – first with 2015’s Trigger Mortis and now with the audacious, prequel to Casino Royale – Forever and a Day. Horowitz skillfully sets the table and gives us the roots of not only Bond’s earning his license to kill, but also the source of his preference for bruised alcohol; shaken, not stirred.
Horowitz also had the benefit of some original material from Ian Fleming, which helps him ratchet up the excitement from what is a pretty straight forward storyline. As with most Bond stories, Horowitz succeeds by creating memorable characters that move through the Bond-sphere, including the femme-fatale, Sixtine. Horowitz is a master and Forever and a Day ranks among the year’s best.
The Moscow Sleepers – Stella Rimington – (Bloomsbury)
Not so much Bond here; strikes me a bit more from the world of John leCarre. Stella Rimington spent her professional career working for MI-5, the British internal security service. She worked the range from counter-espionage, subversion and terrorism; becoming the service’s first ever female director general.
It is from that base of experience that she builds her Liz Carlyle novel series and lends the stories a sense of realism. In her latest, The Moscow Sleepers, Rimington’s characters are realistically vivid to the point that I am certain her former colleagues must see more than small bits of themselves in her portrayals.
The international spy game is on full display, with a taste of intrigue on the side and with plots and conspiracies unfolding on both sides of the pond. Carlyle and her side kick Peggy Kinsolving pull on the loose threads to try to unravel a Russian plot to destabilize the German government with a rotating band of under-deep-cover operatives.
While it’s hard to communicate in the written word the intensity of say the “sleepers” on the TV program The Americans, Rimington does a nice job of imparting the hunt to track down the folks in play and give it a realistic feel.
The Spy Who Was Left Behind – Michael Pullara – (Scribner)
If you prefer your spy stories with more than just a dose of reality, with healthy pinch of murder mystery and a splash of tenacious, ballsy lawyer than, The Spy Who Was Left Behind, from Michael Pullara, the aforementioned testicular fortitude laden attorney, might be right up your alley.
To say that Pullara became obsessed with trying to track down the truth behind the 1993 murder of CIA branch chief Freddie Woodruff, in the crumbling former Soviet state of Georgia. At its heart this is a tale built on a frightening number of layers including the unraveling of the USSR, the U.S. trying to figure their place in the new world order, a ham fisted cover up and one man’s search for the truth.
With 20 years of material, countless interviews with KBG and CIA spies, government officials from both sides and even some newly uncovered witnesses, Pulara does a wonderful job of coherently working the story so it hangs together and moves forward at a steady pace – miraculous for a first time author.