Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Review: Always a Spy.....


Since this is the summer, and beach reading is in fashion, I figure it's time to have a slightly more leisurely look at some of the books that are not written by King, Patterson, or Cornwell. These are books that have not had millions of dollars in advertizing dropped on them, but are suburb nonetheless.

Let's start....

Once A Spy, by Keith Thomson, opens with Drummond Clarke, a retiree lost in the fog of Alzheimer's. He spends his time making a pot of chicken and stars soup, and promptly, for reasons he can't really remember, pours it into the plant next to the windowsill. The plant is made of plastic.

Across the street, men wonder what happened to the listening device they planted in Drummond's home.

Charlie Clarke, degenerate gambler, prefers not to see his father. But, like clockwork, the day after Christmas, he gets his annual phone call. His father is seen wandering the neighborhood. Charlie hopes that this is the last time he'll have to deal with his always-distant father. He has plans to seal Drummond away in a nursing home, and use what little cash the retired appliance salesman has to pay off Charlie's own debt to some unsavory Russian loan sharks. Charlie has particularly high hopes when Drummond insists that he used to work for the CIA. Obviously, the old man has lost his marbles.

Until, that is, Drummond saves Charlie as his house is blown up, and hotwires several cars as father and son are shot at in a running chase through Brooklyn.

And now, Drummond and Charlie have the unusual experience of father-son bonding while under fire. With each new experience, Drummond has lucid moments that keep them alive, and one step ahead of their adversaries.

Now if only Drummond can remember why people are trying to kill him....

“Once a Spy” is a very well put together thriller that doesn't slow down until you finish the novel. While the fight / chase scenes are intelligent and creative, the real fun of the novel comes in between battles, in the quiet moments while Drummond Clarke is still lucid and remembers everything from his former life as a spy. This is when Charlie learns about his past, from moments as simple as why his father missed his high school graduation (Drummond was off the coast of Saudi Arabia in a wetsuit), to why he wasn't allowed to go into the local candy store (couldn't have a young Charlie ruining a covert dead drop, now could they?). The father and son moments are lightly handled, and not hitting the reader over the head with hammer labeled SUBTLETY. Instead of bonding over a camping trip, or fishing, it's over the body of a newly knocked out assassin.

The action / spy sequences are also well done. No one, adversary or protagonist, is stupid in this book. While Drummond is useful in a firefight, the adrenaline can only last so long, and so can the lucidity. It is up to Charlie in these moments, and he's being graded on a sharp learning curve.

It's certainly worth the ride.

Buy it here, now: Once A Spy

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