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Wednesday, August 31, 2016


4 stars out of 5

If this is, as the description suggests, the first book in a series, it's off to a pretty good start. The characters are interesting, the plot intriguing and the action relatively fast-paced. Leading the case is investigative journalist Jake Boxer, who used to host a tabloid-type show called "Bullseye." 

Several years back, Jake's sound man on the show is murdered - presumably by Russian intelligence agents - while he was digging up fodder for the show related to a strange humming noise said to be causing health issues for local folks. At the time, the sound man was engaged to the Clare, the show's producer; but after Jake goes on one too many far-out on-camera rants, the show is canceled and he's kicked off his career path.

Fast-forward a few years to the start of the current story, when a man convicted of murdering Soviet spies back in the 1970s and who claimed to be a former contract hitman for the CIA is executed. Jack has just married Clare (who's now a travel writer), and the two have landed at a fancy-schmancy ski resort in remote Alaska called Blind River - ostensibly so she can write an article about the place. Clare interviewed the now-dead inmate several times for a story years ago and, to Jake's surprise, she's clearly upset by the guy's execution. Suddenly, her behavior turns curiously secretive; and after a nasty turn of events, Jake learns only that the man's last words to Clare were, "The good spy dies twice."

Needless to say, Jake - ever the newshound (and a paranoid one at that)  - can't bring himself to not try to get to the bottom of his wife's interest in the old man and the meaning behind those words. As he pokes around the secluded town and resort, he runs into several questionable characters  and, potentially, an international conspiracy that's rooted in the past but has far-reaching implications for the present and beyond.

For the most part, the writing is solid, with lines here and there that gave me a chuckle, such as:

"...the ice-skating rink and hot cocoa stand was [sic] decorated with enough mistletoe to get the entire town laid."

I must admit, though, that although I enjoyed the book, I never "connected" with any of the characters who - despite all that happens to them - never seemed to give off any emotional vibes that seemed real to me (hence my rating of 4 stars instead of 5). There is plenty of ongoing tension as Jake tries to learn who's behind the conspiracy - no, I didn't know till the end - but somehow I just couldn't feel his often considerable pain. I really did hate to put the book down when other chores demanded my attention, but at the same time, at least twice I found myself wondering if the ending would turn out like the memorable finale of "Newhart" (if you don't know what that was, it's worth looking up). 

For the record, I was granted an advance copy in exchange for an honest review courtesy of the author and publisher via NetGalley. And also for the record, yes, I've put this series on my watch list for the next installment - if only because the former journalist in me wants to find out what story Jake will end up chasing next.  

The Good Spy Dies Twice by Mark Hosack (Wide Awake Books, September 2016); 324 pp.

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