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Keith Thomson
Twice A Spy
Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2011

Doubleday / Random House
US First Edition Hardcover
ISBN 978-0-385-53079-8
Publication Date: 03-08-2011
326 pages; $25.95
Date Reviewed: 05-14-2011

Index:  Mystery  General Fiction

There's no shortage of destruction, action, violence and profanity in Keith Thomson's 'Twice a Spy.' Thomson has a unique take on the spy genre that allows him to approach the stories in a fresh and exciting manner. Like his excellent first novel, 'Once a Spy' (which one really must read to fully enjoy this sequel), his book is filled with insider knowledge that lends it an air of eerie authenticity.

But for all these strengths, what stands out most in 'Twice a Spy' are the engaging characters at the center of the work; fading, aging Drummond Clarke, a one-time CIA operative who is succumbing to early-onset Alzheimer's and his son Charlie, a horse-track habitué who must learn a new trade or join his father in permanent early retirement.

'Twice a Spy' picks up shortly after 'Once a Spy' ends, with Charlie once again at the race track, only this time in Switzerland, with his violence-prone lover, Alice, an ex-NSA operative, at his side. Drummond is doing quite well with a promising new treatment, but of course, every oasis of peace has its limits. In short order, Alice is kidnapped and the ransom is steep; those who hold her want nothing less than the contents of Drummond's memory. They're looking for a washing machine that contains a nuclear device, which they intend to bring to America. Any way you look at it, lives will be lost.

Thomson's strengths as a writer are many. He writes crisp, smart scenes of action, putting the reader on the spot and keeping things visual but not overly complicated. The story is briskly paced and easy to read. Thomson knows how to give readers enough knowledge so that they don't feel left in the dark, but manages to pull a lot of pleasing twists and surprises that feel organic and logical to the story. As a page-turning thriller, 'Twice a Spy' is truly a rocking good time.

But there's a bit more than page turning and action to engage the reader. Thomson knows his spy craft and in particular the technology. He's the Drone Tech Blogger for the Huffington Post, and he uses the results of his reportorial skills to create a vision of the present as more science fictional than we might suspect. As impressive as iPads and cell phones may be, we see only the trailing edge of technology. The government and the military have access to tools that are frighteningly advanced, and to the degree that they are deployed to keep washing machine nukes out of the country, these tools are a good thing. But Thomson keeps his characters at an admirably entertaining level of paranoia that can't help but creep out readers as well.

And of course, it is the characters who matter most. Charlie, Drummond and Alice are hoot to read about. The interactions between the three of them have a raw edge that is cut with an affection that the writer has for his own creations, and that carries over to the reader as well. Thomson even creates engaging characters with terrible motivations and morals. We're happy to see these people thwarted and even meet fates they deserve, but they're fun when they appear on the printed page.

'Twice a Spy' accomplishes everything readers of 'Once a Spy' could hope for. It brings back the characters we loved from the first book and lets them entertain us again with a new and thoughtfully constructed plot. It treats them fairly, which often translates to "not gently," but just as importantly, treats the readers fairly as well. There are lots of great nuggets of tech and truth buried in this work of fiction, but it's not about them. 'Twice a Spy' is a smart, funny, thought provoking and page turning story about a father and son who happen to bond with the help of nuclear weapons that will have readers hoping the third time is the charm.

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