With a holiday weekend heading our way, it’s time to think about beach reading. This summer I’m looking at books that inspired recent streaming shows, oldies but goodies, and fiction work that provides some insight into current issues. Below are some ideas.
Do you like to watch or do you prefer to read?
Several excellent series and films have hit the streaming services in the past several months. I’m thinking of Slow Horses on Apple TV+, All the Old Knives on Amazon Prime, and The Ipcress File on AMC+. These shows definitely make for good viewing. But the books they’re based on also make for good beach reading.
The Ipcress File was Len Deighton’s first novel, published in November 1962.
A recent review on Amazon says:
Len Deighton, in his first spy novel, initiates his readers into the English spy business as it muddles about during the earliest days of the Cold War. Here you meet men and women who survived the last war and who remain just cynical enough to accept the shades of gray on gray found in the No Man’s Land of international espionage. Quick read, smooth writing style coupled with an understanding of the unique humor generated when Fate seems to have taken a personal interest in your life and regularly issues threats against it.
Not interested in The Ipcress File? There are 26 other Deighton novels to choose from. Read about them here.
If you buy the books on Amazon, Cold War Studies will receive a small commission. Here’s the link.
All the Old Knives by Olen Steinhaurer was the Amazon Book of the Month in March 2015.
One Amazon reviewer writes:
Six years ago in Vienna, terrorists took over a hundred hostages, and the rescue attempt went terribly wrong. The CIA’s Vienna station was witness to this tragedy, gathering intel from its sources during those tense hours, assimilating facts from the ground and from an agent on the inside. So when it all went wrong, the question had to be asked: Had their agent been compromised, and how?
Steinhauer is also the author of The Tourist (the Milo Weaver series), and the Yalta Boulevard Sequence. He created the TV series Berlin Station as well. That series is focused on a fictional Central Intelligence Agency branch operating in Berlin. It began airing in 2016, and is available for streaming on EPIX.
Slow Horses is the first book in the Slough House series by Mick Herron.
I haven’t read the Slough House series by Mick Herron, but I have read the rave reviews.
At any rate, here’s what Amazon has to say:
London, England: Slough House is where washed-up MI5 spies go to while away what’s left of their failed careers. The “slow horses,” as they’re called, have all disgraced themselves in some way to get relegated there. Maybe they botched an Op so badly they can’t be trusted anymore. Maybe they got in the way of an ambitious colleague and had the rug yanked out from under them. Maybe they just got too dependent on the bottle—not unusual in this line of work. One thing they have in common, though, is they want to be back in the action. And most of them would do anything to get there─even if it means having to collaborate with one another.
When a young man is abducted and his kidnappers threaten to broadcast his beheading live on the Internet, the slow horses see an opportunity to redeem themselves. But is the victim really who he appears to be?”
Herron’s Slow Horses, was picked as one of the best twenty spy novels of all time by the Daily Telegraph. You can buy it here.
Oldies But Goodies
The Venetian Affair by Helen MacInnes, published in 1963.
The New York Times calls Helen MacInnes the only major female spy novelist. You can read their article about her, Spies Like Hers, here.
According to The Times:
The flavor of much of MacInnes’s work — some 21 novels including “Decision at Delphi,” “The Salzburg Connection” and “Message From Málaga” — depended on a vibrant sense of place, suspense and Iron Curtain paranoia. The specter of Soviet influence as antagonist hovered over the volumes, be it in the form of disinformation techniques like mind control (“The Venetian Affair”), journalists naïvely swearing fervent oaths to the Communist cause (“Neither Five Nor Three”) or details from a propaganda conference (“Ride a Pale Horse”). . .
I’ve arbitrarily selected The Venetian Affair, published in 1963, and set in Paris and Venice. Wikipedia says the book involves Soviet agents and sleeper cells, alluding to events unfolding in Algeria and Vietnam, and containing a conspiracy to assassinate Charles de Gaulle.
The Odessa File by Frederick Forsyth – a reprint edition was published in 2012.
Some of you may remember Forsyth from the success of his first book, The Day of the Jackal. But have you also read his second effort, The Odessa File? He’s actually written 17 books, so you have a lot to choose from.
According to one Amazon review
Some books, like wine, have the ability to age well. “The Odessa File” by Frederic Forsyth is one of those books. It’s full of history — that can turn in to irrelevant couleur locale in some novels, but in the hands of Forsyth it becomes interwoven with the story. It becomes one of the assets for the reader. It is not difficult to see what has made the Forsyth name into a classic in crime fiction: this ease of welding history, facts and fiction together seamlessly. In the case of “The Odessa File” it means you are sitting pretty whether you know a lot about the Second World War or not, about life in 1963 or not. It is obvious that “The Odessa File” has become somewhat of a classic, one that has also been turned into a motion picture. How has the novel held out through the years? In my opinion Forsyth proves himself a master of using historical and technical facts in a story. The amount of facts in this novel is astonishing (especially about WWII and the holocaust), but it works seamlessly with the story. It is not difficult to understand why filmmakers wanted to turn “The Odessa File” into a motion picure. So, what’s attractive about this novel? The story about a nazi plot and a nazi hunt is strong and believable and if it’s no longer relevant today, it still stands firmly as a post WWII story. . .
Gorky Park by Martin Cruz Smith, a crime novel published in 1981.
My final choice for an “oldie but goodie” is Gorky Park by Martin Cruz Smith. Set in the Soviet Union during the Cold War, it’s the first book in a series featuring the character Arkady Renko, a Moscow homicide investigator. Two subsequent books, Polar Star and Red Square, are also set during the Soviet era.
Several reviews are quoted on Amazon.
Brilliant…there are enough enigmas within enigmas within enigmas to reel the mind” (The New Yorker) in this wonderfully textured, vivid look behind the Iron Curtain. “Once one gets going, one doesn’t want to stop…The action is gritty, the plot complicated, and the overriding quality is intelligence” (The Washington Post). The first in a classic series, Gorky Park “reminds you just how satisfying a smoothly turned thriller can be” (The New York Times Book Review).
Books Loosely Relating to Current Issues
The Panther (John Corey Novel #6) by Nelson DeMille, published in 2012.
Yemen’s civil war began in 2014 and, to date, a formal peace process has not brought the political solution that many have been longing for.
The UN has warned that over 100,000 people have been displaced because of the fighting there, and that two million civilians are at risk. You can read more about the war here.
Goodreads previews The Panther this way:
Anti-Terrorist Task Force agent John Corey and his wife, FBI agent Kate Mayfield, have been posted overseas to Sana’a, Yemen-one of the most dangerous places in the Middle East. While there, they will be working with a small team to track down one of the masterminds behind the USS Cole bombing: a high-ranking Al Qaeda operative known as The Panther. Ruthless and elusive, he’s wanted for multiple terrorist acts and murders-and the U.S. government is determined to bring him down, no matter the cost. As latecomers to a deadly game, John and Kate don’t know the rules, the players, or the score.
If political fiction and/or political thrillers are up your alley, you can purchase The Panther here.
American Traitor by Brad Thor, published in 2021.
Brad Thor’s American Traitor, a Pike Logan thriller, raised my awareness of China’s growing influence in the Pacific Region. In 2015, a 99-year lease was granted to the Chinese-owned Landbridge Group, a transaction that has since ignited significant national security concerns. The arrangement is part of China’s Belt and Road initiative, and the port is in close proximity to a base where United States Marines are stationed on a rotational basis and to the international airport, which is used jointly for military and civilian purposes.
As one Amazon reviewer notes:
We all know Brad Taylor is an exceptional author, and I’ve read most if not all his novels. This one is particularly enjoyable not only because of the depth and pace of the action but also because he incorporates some of the background on Taiwan v. China which educates the reader as to the history and current nature of the political temperature in that region of the world. Reader: Do you know about the Port of Darwin??
Is your interest piqued? You can buy the book here.
When We Left Cuba by Chanel Cleeton, published in 2019.
Despite my long standing interest in Cuba, I haven’t read any of Cleeton’s books. Previous works include Next Year in Havana
The Washington Post review of the book closes this way:
“When We Left Cuba” is both a hard-earned love story and a visceral account of history. Cleeton’s writing pulsates with passion and intimacy, even as she gives us a panoramic vision of life during that tumultuous era. She’s long since established herself as a remarkable writer, but with “When We Left Cuba,” she’s written with a sublime force that keeps us tethered to her words.
In a teaser about When We Left Cuba, Amazon says:
The Cuban Revolution took everything from sugar heiress Beatriz Perez—her family, her people, her country. Recruited by the CIA to infiltrate Fidel Castro’s inner circle and pulled into the dangerous world of espionage, Beatriz is consumed by her quest for revenge and her desire to reclaim the life she lost.
Interested? You can buy the book here.
Read and Enjoy
There are no serious books on the beach reading book list. If that’s your poison, you will want to check out the post on Book Picks for Holiday Gift Giving. There are lots of ideas there. And if oil’s your thing, you’ll find 18 Good Books About Oil here.
I hope the beach weather is wonderful, and that you lay back, relax, and read!
Featured photograph by lorello on Flickr