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An Ordinary Spy: A Novel Hardcover

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA; First Edition edition (December 26, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1596913762
  • ISBN-13: 978-1596913769
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 9.4 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 2.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #531,251 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Mimicking many nonfiction books about the CIA, Weisberg, a former CIA officer, has included a blizzard of redacted (blacked out) words and sentences in his second novel (after 10th Grade), as if the agency's publications review board had worked the manuscript over with a heavy hand. Did they? Or is it just a clever ploy for verisimilitude? Mark Ruttenberg, a newly minted agent, is on his first foreign assignment trying to persuade citizens of an unknown country (the location has been redacted) to spy for American interests. He's doing well until he starts sleeping with one of his contacts and his superiors eventually fire him. Back in America, Ruttenberg meets another cashiered spy, Bobby Goldstein, and the two men share their experiences. Ruttenberg and Goldstein may be pretty ordinary spies, as the title suggests, but their stories compel, thanks to the author's deft prose and insider expertise. Given the quantity of blacked-out material, some readers may be more annoyed than intrigued as they puzzle over the missing information. (Jan.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


"Wholly original.”—Los Angeles Times

“Weisberg, a former C.I.A. agent, skillfully maintains a tension-filled plot and offers a humanistic spin on the typical spy story, sensitively portraying the pain of risking lives for the sake of ambition.”—New Yorker

“In a spare but beautifully written book, Weisberg captures the paranoia and frustration, if not the futility, of the real world of spying.”—Newsweek

“The best of new American spy fiction.”—Chicago Tribune

“Recalls G raham G reene’s comic Our Man in Havana…An odd, well-written and interesting novel, a low-key corrective to all the razzle-dazzle spy tales we’ve read.”—Washington Post

“A superb CIA novel.”—St. Louis Post-Dispatch

“A well-wrought, beautifully crafted, incisive book…a remarkably honest and revealing picture of those who shouldn't have become spies in the first place. ”—Washington Times
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Ultimately, the whole thing was too slight.
Taggart Murphy
Why bother writing a book with all that blacking out.
Kit Fournier
It might have been a good read if not for that.
Hoosier Redneck

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

24 of 28 people found the following review helpful By maskirovka VINE VOICE on December 28, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I just finished reading "An Ordinary Spy" (in two days). It made me think some of Claire Berlinski's "Loose Lips" (a novel narrated by a woman going through the CIA's career trainee program...the same one that the narrator in this book went through) and perhaps a bit more like one of the stories in John LeCarre's "The Secret Pilgrim" (narrated by "Ned," a veteran of the British intelligence services).

Loose Lips: A Novel

The Secret Pilgrim (Coronet Books)

From what I've read about the clandestine world, "An Ordinary Spy" rings true. I wonder if some readers might find the redactions (some authentically imposed by the real CIA and some imposed by a fictional CIA censoring a former spook's memoir a bit annoying). I found them somewhat entertaining and found myself guessing where the fictional CIA officer was assigned guess was India.

I think I would recommend that anyone aspiring to be a case officer read this book because it shows that to be an effective one, you have to be what a lot of people would consider hard-hearted...I think in a way it's a bit like wanting to be a doctor (if you can't stand the sight of blood, you aren't going to be a success). Similarly, if you don't have the right personality, you aren't going to be a success as a case officer. I think being a case officer is a worthwhile and commendable profession, but I know enough about myself to conclude that it's not something I would be good at or happy at.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Charles G. Oberndorf on February 2, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I came to AN ORDINARY SPY due to several very fine reviews, and for the first two thirds I was an entranced reader. Better than anyone else I've read, Joseph Weisberg captures the uncertainty of the spying trade: are you being followed or are you just being paranoid? This sense of unease augments both the novel's suspense and its authentic flavor.

And for the first two thirds AN ORDINARY SPY also seems bound to be a powerful novel about how ambition influences human relationships. Unfortunately, Weisberg didn't learn from le Carre and Greene how tragedy can make for great storytelling. Weisberg pulls most of his punches in a convoluted closing act. It seems the only sad ending is the one the protagonists don't notice, and it's reserved for the foreigner who's already suffered more than any of the ordinary spies.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Taggart Murphy on January 21, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Outside of the three Smiley books, this was one of the very rare spy novels that seemed realistic in terms of the trade. Having zero such experience myself, I cannot say that without reservation but it felt realistic and that was certainly refreshing. Mr. Weisberg is a pretty good writer as well and it made the book easy to read and follow. The redactions are a bit silly but don't detract from the story.

Ultimately, the whole thing was too slight. The story that bookends the book is so thin it is almost non-existent. [SPOLIERS BELOW] Goes to country x, blows it, comes home, and becomes a teacher. The motivation for this character were barely there and the resolution obvious. It's barely a third of the book.

The nested story is much more developed and better fleshes out the character. I wished he had dropped the bookend and just finished this story into the book. The second-hand telling shakes off any of the tension or immediacy that might otherwise have been developed.

I will note, that the 'William' character must be a hell of a guy if these two guys are his favorite sons. What, if anything, did they do to engender such loyalty? One has a brief good run followed by feeding actual fake materials (again, I'm not in the intelligence community, but that would seem to be really poorly received). The other has zero success and flames out virtually immediately. So he endeavours to help them help each other? I hated the all-seeing/all-knowing superior able to teach this guy learn his sensitive spy-lesson and then make his woman magically appear. Man, those anonymous postcards sure seem all-powerful.

I suppose the narrative fake-out allow for the twist at the end (was that a twist?).
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Joseph D. Policano on May 25, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As a former CIA emloyee the author is required to have his novel redacted by the agency censors. And that leads to a cute gimmick in this book. Entire sections, sometimes full pages, are blacked out as though they were the cuts the agency required. It is annoying for the first few pages but then becomes interesting as you try to figure out what it was the agency was supposed to be cutting. The plot moves along nicely and you do get a sense of the everday banality of the agency's work alongside its life endangering escapades. Most of the characters are nicely drawn and the author's style is straightforward if not very exciting or interesting. BUT, the ending is a mess as though the author didn't really know what to do so he threw everything against the wall and the reader is supposed to accept it and put it all together . The crappy last few chapters were slapped together just to end the damn thing.
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