Lexington, KY, United States | Member Since 2011
I arrived at "The Shadow Factory" by way of listening to Neal Stephenson's "Cryptonomicon," a fictional work whose themes include cryptanalysis and the origins of the NSA. I was hoping to learn more about the NSA overall with "The Shadow Factory." The focus of Bamford's book is the post-9/11 era and it's primarily penned as an expose' of the NSA warrantless wiretapping rather than simply an informative work of nonfiction. The tone throughout is darkly conspiratorial and I suppose as readers/listeners we are expected to be totally outraged by what is revealed in the book, namely that the NSA is sweeping up vast oceans of bits and bytes for either immediate, real-time snooping with the aid of astoundingly fast computers, or for storage for future analysis. While this does raise some sticky points of a constitutional nature, I couldn't help but think that such massive intel gathering was vulnerable to equally massive intel spamming by our enemies. i.e. What is to prevent China, Iran, Russia et al from generating relentless streams of encrypted chaff to clog the NSA's vast but ultimately finite storage capacity? But I digress.
In short, if you're the sort of guy who likes espionage fiction, mathematics, computer science, cryptology and/or history you will probably find "The Shadow Factory" an interesting glimpse into the real deal, albeit filtered through the lens of a single author whose stance toward his subject is adversarial.
First of all, it's gimmicky. The narrator of this crime novel about a burglar is himself a burglar who also is a writer of crime fiction. Cute.
Secondly, the story has no arc to it. The protagonist is, arguably, trying to unravel a mystery and locate some particular items. But he doesn't make very progress through the course of the book and he just flails around from point A to point B. Then at the conclusion, there is a cliched Agatha Christie sort drawing room summation of sorts, in which the hero reveals all that he has deduced or at least surmised about the truth, and none of it has been earned in the preceding pages. Apparently all the interesting leads were followed and all the best interviews occurred off stage, so to speak. In all, a waste of time and one credit.
If you enjoy fiction like John Le Carre's "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" and "The Spy Who Came In From the Cold," this nonfiction book is right up your alley. Top notch performance by narrator John Lee.
Having read "An Army At Dawn" in print, the author's style and the subject were familiar to me, and I purchased the audio version of "The Day of the Battle" without hesitation. This was a mistake as the narrator Jonathan Davis actually reads the work much too slowly for my patience. His ponderous, halting style is not at all natural to my ear and certainly nothing like my own inner voice when reading text. It made the listening to "The Day of the Battle" more work than relaxation, and at about the halfway point I just gave up on it. I may eventually check the book out of the library to finish it in print.
"Red Sparrow" is not a perfect novel but it is very, very good and without a doubt one of the best credits I ever spent. It is not really like a John Le Carre book but painting with a broad brush, "Red Sparrow" is more like "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" than, say, Ian Fleming's "Goldfinger." It is a story of real world human intelligence and counter-intelligence operations and as such the plot involves not only the tradecraft of spies but also the characters' inner lives -- their past experiences, their resentments, their betrayals and humiliations, their hopes and ambitions, and ultimately their shifting loyalties.
There is one shortcoming that comes to mind in that author Jason Matthews gives one of the main characters an unusual trait and at times he uses it as a literary crutch. (Coincidentally this particular character has a limp.) But even so "Red Sparrow" is absorbing and I even found myself over the weekend looking forward to Monday morning when my commute in the car would let me get back to the story. For a debut novel it is excellent and I hope that Matthews has a long and fruitful literary career.
This is an interesting book about shifts in policy in the military and the intelligence services involved in the war on terror from about 2001 onwards. (Some of the material actually pre-dates 9/11.) If the subject matter interests you then you will probably find the book to be worth a credit. Shortcomings of the work include the way the author jumps around temporally and the overly-dramatic reading by the narrator.
While not without faults, "The Secret Speech" overall is gripping, moving, and educational and I recommend it enthusiastically to those who liked "Child 44."
Unlike the previous book it is not a mystery but an epic adventure that finds protagonist Leo Demidov on a seemingly hopeless quest that brings to mind the Myth of Sisyphus, the labors of Hercules, and Dante's Inferno. Dennis Boutsikaris again provides great narration, just as he did for "Child 44." If I were level criticism at it, I would say that "The Secret Speech" reached a point that seemed like a natural ending and then went on for several more chapters of what might have formed the basis of a whole separate book.
"14" starts off strong enough but the longer it went on the more glaring its shortcomings became . The author's voice as a writer is just not mature yet. He does not write with anything at all approaching economy, and consequently many scenes drag on and on. The dialogue is dull and predictable and, worse, often serves to detract from the plot or undermine the tone of the story rather than contribute to it. And perhaps worst of all, the tale reaches at a point where it becomes essentially fan fiction of H.P. Lovecraft in that the underlying premise is borrowed directly from Lovecraft rather than anything actually imagined by Clines.
"The Finish." is an informative though not especially exciting account of the Bin Laden raid. Bowden is a more mature writer than the author of "No Easy Day," but if you've read or listened to the latter there isn't much more to be learned from the former.
I didn't like the narration by James Lurie. He comes off like he's over-selling the machismo angle of the whole enterprise or sounding like the narrator from that TV show "City Confidential." And his voice is low and gruff and not easily heard over background noises if you're listening while exercising.
Reserving 1 star for narration so bad it is unlistenable, I give this audio version of "The God Delusion" 2 stars for narration due to the terrible decision to feature two narrators, the author himself and Lalla Ward. What on earth inspired the producers to take the approach of having the two of them share the narration in back and forth style, I don't know, but the style offers much in the way of jarring distraction without anything at all on the positive side.
What saves the book and makes it listenable is that the ideas within are compelling. All in all, an audiobook to listen to despite the narration, which I hated.
Did I mention that I hated the narration?
This is a remarkably well-written book that is a cut above typical detective genre fiction. It is hard to take though, between the graphic depiction of starvation among Russian peasants, the thorough exploration of the oppressiveness of the Soviet system, and the basic plot of a serial killer murdering dozens of children. The audio sample provided by Audible is a good representative excerpt.
The emotion that I most often felt throughout "Child 44" was sadness. Admittedly this is not what I normally feel or want to feel when enjoying a mystery or a thriller, and yet I recommend "Child 44" enthusiastically. The narration by Dennis Boutsikaris is superb. Upon finishing "Child 44," I purchased two other titles by Tom Rob Smith.
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