A Time to Betray: The Astonishing Double Life of a CIA Agent Inside the Revolutionary Guards of Iran: Reza Khahlili

The only thing astonishing in this book is the fact anyone would think it’s astonishing. Instead, it reads as a mishmash of old hearsay and propaganda packaged as “real.”

Despite that, we should not doubt the main thesis that the Iran of Khomeini and afterwards was and is a corrupt and evil force.

For a spy and supposed senior member of the Revolutionary Guard, the author is extremely naive and incompetent.

The Neon Rain: James Lee Burke

Some long-lived detective serials take their time developing and defining their main character (eg – Ian Rankin’s Rebus). Others spring fully-formed from book one (Harry Bosch; Armande Gamache). Dave Robicheaux is in the latter category. This is the first in Lee Burke’s series, but Dave we know at the end of the series is there right from the beginning. Some series (Lee Child) get old, repeating the success. Others stay fresh (Gamache). Robicheaux stays fresh. The only flaw is Lee Burke often repeats the same lines from book to book, and that gets old.

Get to know Dave. He’s worth it.

The Cairo Affair: Olen Steinhauer

Not my first reading of this one. I always love when Steinhauer features Hungary somehow in his work, but this one speaks to me because I was living in Libya during the time the book is set (and we see now how that turned out (badly).

Good character work by Steinhauer here: almost all the people initially appear as sympathetic characters, but we soon find out how much damage they do to others. Somehow, we still sympathize with them nevertheless.

American Spy: Lauren Wilkinson

Another debut novel.

There is a good book buried in here. Somewhere.

I couldn’t find it. However, you might.

I couldn’t get through and past the bizarre 1st person narrative voice, variously addressed to one of her twin sons — it’s not often clear which, and she repeatedly, confusingly, keeps referring to people through their relationship to her sons when we aren’t clear what those are — who aren’t even present for most of the novel.

The time jumps are confusing.

I guessed the plot just halfway through.

As I said, I couldn’t find enough good to outweigh all that.

You might.

A Wanted Man: Lee Child

Short, declarative sentences. Sharp, snappy dialogue. A flexible moral compass. Just get the job done. It must be Jack Reacher. From the bestseller lists, a very “wanted man.”

One caveat: Child’s novels are all so very clearly delineated in terms of story arc, character and style that it wasn’t until Chapter Six that I wasn’t entirely sure I hadn’t read this one before.

The Expats: Chris Pavone

Mm, mm, good! A spy thriller in the best tradition of Le Carre and Steinhauer. The tension and plot is almost entirely psychological, with multiple layers of deceit and lying among the characters. There is very little violence and weapons appear only rarely, but the pace and tension crackles.