Review: The Billion Dollar Spy – by David E. Hoffman

the billion dollar spy

This espionage thriller tells the true life story of one of the Cold War’s most valuable assets, a Russian spy working for the CIA in the heart of the Soviet military aerospace sector. Adolf Tolkachev made the first tentative moves to reach out to the Americans in January 1977, in the heart of Moscow. At first, due to a faltering lack of human resources in the spy game for the Americans, it was seen with suspicion and Tolkachev was viewed as a KGB dupe. After he started to produce information from his workplace, the Scientific Research Institute for Radio Engineering, it was seen as a genuine defection and his material would prove absolutely vital in the arms race for the USA over a critical decade during the last years of the Cold War. Tolkachev became a billion dollar spy and his work would reach the Oval Office directly. In Moscow, the spying game is so difficult as it was seen as the hardest place on earth to work as an agent. Yet through cat and mouse cutting edge deception, the CIA were able to clandestinely successfully run their asset for a long time. It was only a crude defection from within that disrupted the operation and led to the arrest and execution of a Russian man who is a true hero for the West during this dark period. The story dovetails through risk and amazement and surprise yet is balanced out by the simple needs of a hardworking quiet family man that Tolkachev was. It is a well researched, gripping tale of a bygone era when Cold War espionage was at its critical heights.


Review: Dangerous People, Dangerous Places – by Norman Parker

dangerous people, dangerous placesAuthor, Norman Parker served a 24 year jail sentence for murder. On his release, wanting to experience life to the fullest, he took advantage of his writing skills to become a journalist for lads mags and the Daily Express and set about tackling the niche market of visiting dangerous places in the world and through his criminal contacts by meeting dangerous people. The book details his adventures and his journey takes him to the far reaches of the planet. Colombia, Haiti, Israel, Northern Ireland, Sri Lanka. Parker can be found mixing it up with narco-traffickers in cocaine laboratories as well as hanging with terrorists, insurgents and guerrillas. He seems streetwise in his travels and has a remarkable self discipline that allows him to survive in the danger zones. As the story unfolds he reveals more of his personal journey and seems like a nice character, in spite of his convictions. I’d be keen to learn more about what transpired at the end of the book when he seems to agree on settling into an Israeli settler community, mainly due to his Jewish heritage. Enjoyed reading the variety and excesses of a global whirlwind travelogue.


Review: Gypsy Jane – by Jane Lee with David Jarvis

gypsy jane

I read this book really quickly- it was enticing and a good tale. Gypsy Jane is something of a crazy phenomenon who rocked the London underworld with some pretty brutal firsthand tales. It didn’t take much for the Gran to pay a visit to any dissidents and she’d be brandishing a samurai sword or her cherished shooters. From bootlegging booze across the Channel after an early career as an armed robber, Jane was never frightened to mix it. If you had the front to rip her off in a drug deal, she’d be through your door, terrorising you. After being shot by armed police four times after a set up on an armed robbery, she had her first jail experience. Her life is laid bare in this story and Jane seems a very passionate, loving woman who idolised the love of her life, Gangster Matt, and her son. On the inside she is a caring family woman but her gypsy blood doesn’t allow her to settle whenever she senses danger and she rises to the challenge in an instant. After going straight after several prison sentences, her ‘normal’ life in the real world leads her to plot a series of four murders which luckily, in the end, she manages to avoid carrying out. An interesting book by a larger than life character.

Review: Chasing the Scream – The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs – by Johann Hari

chasing the scream

This is a solid well written piece of investigative journalism, exploring the history and present situation and indeed future of the War on Drugs. Hari traces back the war to a zealous prohibition agent, Harry Anslinger, who carved out world policy in this fight back in 1930s America. It’s very bizarre how one man’s irrational efforts have so thoroughly shaped world policy and are indirectly responsible for the thousands of deaths that occur today in the narcotrafficking industry. The story progresses through a series of anecdotal tales where the author interviews various characters whose lives have been affected by the War on Drugs. We have Mexican hitmen, Transgender crack dealers, mothers who have lost children, plus the sad tales of addiction. The world journey that took several years for the completion of the book takes Hari on many routes, culminating in an examination of decriminalisation policies in Holland and Portugal plus also the legalisation of Marijuana in Uruguay. Whether to separate the case of marijuana from harder drugs such as cocaine and heroin? The book draws out many thought provoking and indeed revolutionary ideas and solutions and took an approach that was unbiased, informative and educated. A good book for anyone who might have an interest in exploring this dark subject.


Review: The Big Breach – From Top Secret To Maximum Security – by Richard Tomlinson

the big breach

Richard Tomlinson was a controversial MI6 whistleblower that made international headlines during his messy fallout with Britain’s foreign intelligence service. Initially after a first class degree from Cambridge he was approached for recruitment by SIS but he postponed this work, beginning a career in the city and in his spare time qualifying for the SAS regiment in the Territorial Army. eventually he decided to follow up the MI6 interest and embarked upon a career with the secret service. He was a high flyer in qualification and the interview and was given top jobs following his employment. He was trusted to head out to Moscow and had a rough and ready role in Sarajevo during the Balkan conflict where he got into trouble for not wearing a tie during a diplomatic meet with Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadic. His early years looked promising and then suddenly, mid operation whilst dealing with Iranian terrorists, Tomlinson found his security clearance at the spanking new MI6 headquarters revoked and his unpleasant personnel management announced that he had been fired. An angry ex agent, Tomlinson wanted justice and tried to appeal his sacking and to take his employers to an industrial tribunal. Using national security as a barrier to any court action MI6 frustrated Tomlinson’s attempts to overturn the firing. An angry Tomlinson felt he had no recourse but to write a book and tell his story to the world. A manuscript was seized from an Australian publisher and in breach of the Official Secrets Act, Tomlinson was arrested and banged up in the high security Belmarsh prison. On his release Tomlinson had an international cat and mouse game with MI6. Funded by large amounts of taxpayers money they disrupted his life internationally leading to his arrest in various countries where he tried to rebuild his life. His revelations about his work led him to the Princess Diana death tribunal where he revealed an almost identical audacious MI6 plot to assassinate Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic using high powered strobes to disrupt a car whilst travelling through a road tunnel. Eventually Tomlinson had his bitter memoirs published and this book offers a fascinating insight into the murky world of espionage. Ultimately this former spy’s campaign for justice led to MI6 employees getting union rights and employment statuses within the UK as they would working for any other company. This is a fascinating read and a must for any student of the intelligence services.

Review: El Sicario – Confessions of a Cartel Hit Man – by Molly Molloy and Charles Bowden

el sicario

This is an explosive book, real revelations from a sicario or hitman for the Juarez cartel in Mexico. In the murky world of narcotics enforcers are employed by the cartels to assassinate and extort owed money from victims. This sicario was trained as a policeman with this training funded by the narcos. In the law enforcement school he learnt all the surveillance tricks and how to use the necessary weapons that he could employ in the narco world in a Mexico that was careering out of control. Often holed up for weeks or months on end with kidnapped victims, the sicario often had to execute people in an instant at a moment’s notice. Very often he was high on drugs (cocaine) and drink and his world of ultraviolence is revealed in a brutal and honest narrative. As the sicario rose up the ranks and became ever more embroiled in the dirty work, he ultimately found a way out through zealous missionaries who protected him and allowed him to seek repentance for the insidious murders he had committed. This is a journey in a world that is stranger than fiction and the tale is well worth the read.


Review: Escobar: The Inside Story of Pablo Escobar, the World’s Most Powerful Criminal. as Told by His Brother Roberto Escobar


Much has been said about Pablo Escobar, who was the richest criminal in history and the head of the Medellin cartel in Colombia. This book is written from the heart and is an intimate portrait of the great man as remembered by one of his closest associates and a member of his family – his brother Roberto Escobar. Often Roberto will refute some of the more macabre details of Pablo legend as he aims to place the truth into history. We hear the inside story of Pablo’s early years, his breaking into the cocaine trade through contraband trafficking. It is clear how ruthless Pablo could be and even in the early years his business acumen can be unquestioned. There are enlightening tales from Hacienda Napoles. Always there is an emphasis on Pablo Escobar’s Robin Hood qualities with his care of the poor and needy in the slums of Medellin. We see how war was brought to the Colombian government through the Extraditables and also against the Cali cartel. The struggle against the Pepes in latter years is brutal and Roberto has to face a crippling injury after a letter bomb explodes in prison. The whole saga of La Catedral – the prison where they negotiated surrender is revealing. The tale of Pablo Escobar is one of extremes. The amounts of profit and money changing hands are astronomical. Roberto, as a chief accountant of the organisation, is in a position to give some clarity on the range of investments and the inside details of the massive narcotics shipments that were taking place. At the end of the day, this was a business like any other and the violence associated with the hunting down of Pablo and in maintaining his massive empire is out of this world. I think that through this biography we see more of Pablo the Saint and family man than the terrorist and criminal. A great five star read.