An espionage novel with a sound premise that gets bogged down in minutiae.


U.S. Air Force Maj. Jake Kelly is on a mission to prevent a coup in the Soviet Union in Cobb’s fourth Falcon Series spy thriller.

It’s 1988, and Kelly, also known as “Falcon,”is getting married in San Francisco. He’s a crack pilot and a member of an elite special forces team. His bride, Galina Toporova, is a Soviet woman who saved his life during one of his missions in her home country. Guests include Kelly’s friend and mentor, CIA bigwig Bill Jensen, and Galina’s surrogate father, Anatoly Romanovich Geredin, the aging head of the KGB. It’s an odd mix, for sure, but perhaps one that speaks to an approaching thaw in the Cold War. The reformist policies of the new Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, aren’t being met with universal enthusiasm in his own country, however. A cadre of hard-liners within the Soviet military, led by Adm. Konstantin Grigoriyevich Shukshin, are plotting a coup, hoping to restore the Soviet Union to what they see as the glorious days of Stalinist rule. When Geredin gets word of the plot—which involves forcing a military skirmish between Soviet and American forces—he reaches across the Cold War battle lines to seek help from Jensen. As tensions escalate, Jensen receives permission to insert an American agent into the Soviet’s Red Banner Pacific Fleet. “I’d like to send Major Kelly back in,” Jensen explains to Vice President George H.W. Bush. “I believe he can pull off the Soviet citizen act with no difficulty.” Kelly has just lost his flight clearance after having a seizure,but he’s itching to get back into the field. Will he be able to complete the mission? The future of U.S–Soviet relations may hang in the balance.

Cobb’s novel dramatizes events leading up to a real-life attempted coup against Gorbachev, which gives it a feeling of realism that’s often missing from espionage novels. It’s clear that the author knows the ins and outs of submarine warfare, and the scenes depicting these chess matches are consistently tense and believable. That sense of verisimilitude does not extend to the characters, though, who are reliably flat and easily sorted into hero and villain categories. Even for a flyboy, Kelly is a petulant protagonist, and he comes off as too shallow and impulsive to win readers’ admiration. In addition, a Christian element runs through the story but isn’t integrated very convincingly; Jake’s superiors are regularly recruiting him to accept Christ into his life, for example, and his formerly atheistic wife, Galina, is depicted as very taken with “the words of Jesus.” The pacing is also hampered by superfluous scenes reiterating information already given or unnecessarily establishing relationships between characters, as if readers would be unable to make such connections on their own. Indeed, Cobb spends far too long setting things up in this novel, and by the time Jake is back in the U.S.S.R., many readers will likely have lost interest.

An espionage novel with a sound premise that gets bogged down in minutiae.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: 978-0-9848875-7-6

Page Count: 541

Publisher: Doorway Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 2, 2020

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A poignant and lyrical novel that asks what is worth sacrificing for peace—and provides some answers.

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Berry delivers a taut and compassionate thriller as young mother Tessa is drawn into working as a double agent in the Irish Republican Army to protect her sister.

It's been years since the Good Friday Agreement was signed, but tensions in Northern Ireland remain at a constant simmer. Tessa moves through the simple motions of her life: taking care of her infant son, working at the BBC News Belfast bureau, spending time with her mother and sister. The physical isolation and beauty of her home village hint at the possibility of a world in which one doesn’t always have to be alert for terrorists; Tessa is old enough, however, to remember the Troubles, and she fears that the IRA will never truly surrender. Still, it comes as a shock at work one day when she sees a video of her sister participating in an IRA robbery. But even more shocking is the revelation that comes from Marian herself once she is able to reach out to Tessa: She's been a member of the IRA for seven years, drawn in by their talk about economic inequality, and has recently begun feeding information to MI5 in order to create space for peace talks. After a bomb she created for the IRA failed to blow up, though, she's under constant surveillance and can no longer meet with her British handler. And so Tessa joins her sister as a double agent: She's accepted by Marian’s crew and asked to do increasingly dangerous tasks for the IRA, which she then reports to her handler. Days of espionage are balanced by quiet moments with her son as Tessa comes to realize that putting herself in danger is justified, even necessary, if she wants him to grow up in a safer Ireland. Berry's use of short chapters, often divided into several smaller episodes, is particularly effective in reflecting Tessa's fragmented sense of loyalty and safety. This is not a book of action, though there is plenty, but instead a greater reflection on personal choice and consequence.

A poignant and lyrical novel that asks what is worth sacrificing for peace—and provides some answers.

Pub Date: April 6, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-73-522499-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2021

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It may be time for Silva's hero to retire from the field and let his protégés take over.


Gabriel Allon partners with a dubious ally in the Middle East.

When a 12-year-old is abducted from an exclusive private school in Geneva, Allon, head of Israeli intelligence, is among the first to know. The girl’s father is Khalid bin Mohammed, heir to the Saudi throne, and he wants Allon’s help. KBM was once feted as a reformer, ready to bring new industries and new freedoms to his country. When he makes his appeal to Allon, though, KBM is the prime suspect in the murder of a journalist. If KBM immediately makes you think of MBS, you are correct. Silva mentions Mohammad bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s real-life heir apparent, in a foreword. But anyone who recognizes KBM as a fictional echo of MBS might find this book to be more old news than fresh entertainment. In his last few novels, Silva has turned his attention to current world affairs, such as the rise of the new Russia and the threats of global terrorism. In novels like The Other Woman (2018) and House of Spies (2017), the author was inventive enough that these works felt compelling and original. And, in The Black Widow (2016), Silva wrote much of the story from the point of view of the French-born Israeli doctor Allon recruited for an undercover mission while also expanding the roles of a few familiar secondary characters. Allon is a wonderful creation. In the first several novels in this series, he posed as an art restorer while working for Israel’s intelligence service. He adopted a variety of personas and gave readers access to people and places few of us will ever see. Now that he’s a public figure who can no longer invent alter egos, his world is smaller and less fascinating. The pacing here is slow, and any sense of urgency is undercut by the matter of what’s at stake. Ultimately, this is a narrative about removing one horrible Saudi ruler in order to reinstate a less horrible Saudi ruler. This might be solid realpolitik, but it’s not terribly compelling fiction.

It may be time for Silva's hero to retire from the field and let his protégés take over.

Pub Date: July 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-283483-6

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

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