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Friday, November 5, 2010

What I'm Reading: Once a Spy

Once A Spy: A NovelIt is not often that I see a debut thriller from a first time novelist getting universal praise, so I took quick notice when the unanimous love for Once A Spy by Keith Thomson was dominating my review journals last month.

From Publisher's Weekly (via Amazon):
Huffington Post columnist Thomson's wildly original debut, a darkly satirical thriller, features an unlikely, if endearing, father-son spy duo: retired appliance salesman Drummond Clark, who at age 64 suffers from Alzheimer's disease, and Charlie Clark, a down-on-his-luck gambler who owes $23,000 to Russian loan sharks. Soon after Charlie rescues Drummond from the Brooklyn streets, where he'd been wandering, the older man's house blows up and the two barely escape with their lives. Clark and son begin an adrenaline-fueled cross-country flight in which they must evade ruthless CIA assassins long enough to understand why they're being targeted. During rare moments of lucidity, Drummond hotwires a car and effortlessly kills multiple assailants, suggesting to Charlie he was once much more than just a washing machine salesman. Poignant themes of love and redemption underpin an action-packed story line that includes exotic locales, high-tech gadgetry, and international intrigue.
So now you know the unique twist here.  I have to tell you the spy with Alzheimer's angel was quite entertaining.  I am not a huge spy novel fan,  but I found this book, fun, fresh, and engaging.  The chapters were short, and although the characters and situations pushed the limits of believability, Thomson bounced around between points of view and plot lines so quickly, that I did not have time to be bothered with questioning if it could really happen.  I was fully along for the ride, and that was a great feeling.

Specifically, I loved Charlie.  He was the most believable character. Through his adventure with his dad, Charlie was able to face his demons head on, come to terms with his past, and forge a true relationship with his father, built on love and respect, for the first time in his life.  It was the relationship between Charlie and Drummond that was the most compelling story line to me. Without Thomson's attention to their relationship, I don't think I would have enjoyed the book as much.

Three Words That Describe This Book: spies, fast-paced, father-son relations

Readalikes:  As I mentioned, I am not a huge spy thriller fan, but I do have a few suggestions of the best writers in the field, right now: Daniel Silva and his Gabriel Allon series are a must read as is Alan Furst.

In terms of the backlist, Once a Spy is very James Bond like. You may want to check out a Fleming novel or 007 film after reading Thomson's book.  Also, the Robert Ludlum Bourne franchise is worth a read or a viewing.

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