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The Prodigal Spy


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About the Author

Joseph Kanon is the internationally bestselling author of eight novels, which have been published in twenty-four languages, including: Los Alamos, which won the Edgar Award for best first novel, The Good German, which was made into a film starring George Clooney and Cate Blanchett, The Prodigal Spy, Alibi, which earned Kanon the Hammett Award of the International Association of Crime Writers, Istanbul Passage, and Leaving Berlin. He is also a recipient of the Anne Frank Human Writers Award for his writings on the aftermath of the Holocaust. He lives in New York City with his wife, literary agent Robin Straus. They have two sons.


Suppose Sen. Joseph McCarthy, HUAC, and other loyalty investigators had actually unearthed a Communist spy during those pyrotechnic years from 1950 to 1954? And suppose this spy had disappeared and was not heard from until 1969, when through mysterious means he communicates from Prague with his grown son and tells him he wishes to return to the United States. On this premise, Kanon has constructed a literate, swiftly paced thriller. As in Los Alamos (LJ 3/15/97), he again demonstrates his ability to tell a story and make his characters come alive. There is suspense, expertly built up; a love interest, in the most approved contemporary fashion; and action, in the classic spy tradition. The political climate of Washington in the 1950s and the atmosphere of suspicion and fear in Prague under the Soviets feel real. A treat for crime fans who appreciate blithe and brittle writing.‘A.J. Anderson, GSLIS, Simmons Coll., Boston

Kanon's second novel, after the very well-received Los Alamos, is somewhat disappointing. He ventures into John le Carré territory, telling the tale of an American State Department official, hounded by the McCarthyites in 1950, who proves them right by abruptly decamping to the Soviet Union in the middle of congressional hearings into his loyalty. The tale of Walter Koltar is told by his son Nick, both at the time of his disappearance, when Nick is a small boy not quite understanding what is happening to his father, and nearly 20 years later, when he receives a mysterious summons to visit his father, now living in Czechoslovakia, just after the illusory "Prague Spring" of 1968. Walter wants to return home and thinks he has a trump card that will make that possible. Will Nick help out? As he proved in Los Alamos, Kanon is very adept at rendering the feeling and atmosphere of another time, and his early chapters are powerful evocations of that strange period in American life. He is good, too, on the bizarre quality of life in Prague after the Soviet invasion. The book is thoughtful, often penetrating, though at its considerable length, and with its comparatively small cast‘Nick; his abandoned mother; his stepfather, Larry (another top Washington official); and his girlfriend Molly‘it sometimes is a bit claustrophobic. The real problems appear in the last 100 pages, where the pace accelerates, J. Edgar Hoover is introduced as a not altogether convincing walk-on, and Nick takes a catastrophic action that seems entirely out of character with how he has been presented previously. It is as if the conventions of the spy thriller are working against Kanon's real strengths, which are in the creation of character as forged by intelligently re-created history. (Jan.)

"An edgy spy thriller . . . [and] a tale of love--between father and son, man and woman--set against a foreboding background that is poignant and imminently believable. . . . Captivating."--Denver Post

"Compelling . . . intriguing . . . superb . . . reads beautifully and convinces utterly."--Wall Street Journal "Intriguing...Kanon wonderfully conveys the paranoia of the times. . . . The Prodigal Spy has a richness of emotional layers usually not found in espionage novels." --USA Today "Vivid . . . tense . . . reheats the Cold War with history, mystery and a political blast from the past."--People "Kanon does a fine job . . . blending history, fiction, suspense and romance . . . but what he does the best is to turn more than a few moments in our history into a personal story that shows the reality of what we have done and can do to each other."--Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

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