4:08pm

Tue June 3, 2014
Book Reviews

Book Review: 'The Director' and 'Night Heron'

Originally published on Tue June 3, 2014 8:03 pm

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel. Now, two new spy novels, both written by journalists - one by an old hand of the genre, Washington Post columnist David Ignatius - the other by a first-time novelist, Adam Brookes at the BBC. Alan Cheuse has our reviews.

ALAN CHEUSE: Ignatius's novel "The Director" takes us into the heart of the CIA as communications mogul Graham Weber assumes his post as the newly appointed head of the intelligence agency. Weber seeks to reform what appears from the outside, and from the inside as well, a highly dysfunctional intelligence agency.

On top of the usual covey of people resistant to change comes the news that a mole may be poking his nose into the ones and zeros of the agency's supposedly deeply protected communication systems. To help find the spy among spies, Weber turns to the agency's hip, postmodernish poster boy for web work - head of the Information Operations Center, James Morris, otherwise known as Pownzer.

This turns out to be a big mistake, as Ignatius lets readers know early enough to participate in the enormous ironies of the new director's dependence on this squirrely genius who has burned through his loyalty oath right-quick. Morris, a Pynchonesque, Edward-Snowden-like figure adds enormously to the suspense as well as the irony, as he leads a cohort of secret ops to disrupt the business of international finance.

From a seasoned book op to a first-time thriller writer, Adam Brookes - he's reported for the BBC from China and now works for BBC News in Washington. His book is called "Night Heron." It's got all of the freshness of first-hand sense of place and a pulsing narrative drive. "Night Heron" opens in a faraway place even for China - a labor camp distant from China's famous cities, as a one-time spy for the British, a big lumbering man nicknamed Peanut, escapes from his captivity and heads back to urban life in Beijing.

Peanut settles into a job as a bouncer at a working man's brothel, but not before trying to make contact with his old British handlers and his former sources in the Chinese defense industry. When midway through the book, British journalist Philip Mangan dives into espionage, taking up the task of serving as Peanuts' cut-off, shedding, as we hear, his illusion that he was working in the name of journalism, of a story, of a little collaboration. And the novel really catches fire. Both of these books smolder and crackle and spark. For spy junkies, they're a great fix. For those of you still unsure about the genre, these are two terrific place to begin. Big thrills await you.

SIEGEL: The two new spy thrillers are "The Director" by David Ignatius and "Night Heron" by Adam Brookes. Alan Cheuse had our review. His most recent book is "An Authentic Captain Marvel Ring And Other Stories." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.