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Once A Spy: A Novel Hardcover – March 9, 2010


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday; 1 edition (March 9, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385530781
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385530781
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6.6 x 9.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (177 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #747,311 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

James Bamford Reviews Once a Spy

James Bamford is the bestselling author of The Shadow Factory: The NSA From 9/11 To The Eavesdropping On America, Body Of Secrets: Anatomy Of The Ultra-Secret National Security Agency, and other books on intelligence. Read his guest review of Once a Spy:

In the National Security Agency's cipher-locked Tordella Supercomputer Building, hard drives are capable of storing upwards of a petabyte of data, equal to about 20 million four-drawer filing cabinets of top secret paper. When the time comes to destroy that information, the drive is first put in a $44,000 degausser that completely erases the magnetic memory. Then, for good measure, the drive is inserted into a $7,000 "Physical Hard Drive Destroyer" where it is bent, broken, and smashed. Although expensive, the entire operation can be accomplished in less than a minute.

Across the Potomac River at CIA headquarters, however, getting rid of information presents a far more difficult problem; the most sensitive data is stored not in hard drives, but in human brains. So what happens when one of those brains, belonging to a top agency spy, comes down with Alzheimer's?

That is the problem the agency is having with Drummond Clark in Keith Thomson's enjoyable spy novel, Once a Spy. Uncertain of what the former spy may do, the agency's only way to ensure the security of the information in Drummond's mind is to put him through their own version of the NSA's Physical Hard Drive Destroyer: bend, break, and smash him.

Caught in the middle is Drummond's gambling-addicted son, Charlie, who has always known his father not as a stealthy CIA officer, but as a down-beat, work-a-day appliance salesman. He slowly starts to see his father in a different light, however, after someone blows up his Brooklyn apartment and Drummond begins engaging in some unique tradecraft, not common to appliance tradesmen. Soon, it's not just the CIA that wants to put Drummond and Charlie in the shredder, but others, leading to an elaborate father-son escape with many false turns, unexpected detours, and the possibility of a very dead end. Once a Spy is a wild ride. --James Bamford


From Publishers Weekly

Huffington Post columnist Thomson's wildly original debut, a darkly satirical thriller, features an unlikely, if endearing, father-son spy duo: retired appliance salesman Drummond Clark, who at age 64 suffers from Alzheimer's disease, and Charlie Clark, a down-on-his-luck gambler who owes $23,000 to Russian loan sharks. Soon after Charlie rescues Drummond from the Brooklyn streets, where he'd been wandering, the older man's house blows up and the two barely escape with their lives. Clark and son begin an adrenaline-fueled cross-country flight in which they must evade ruthless CIA assassins long enough to understand why they're being targeted. During rare moments of lucidity, Drummond hotwires a car and effortlessly kills multiple assailants, suggesting to Charlie he was once much more than just a washing machine salesman. Poignant themes of love and redemption underpin an action-packed story line that includes exotic locales, high-tech gadgetry, and international intrigue. (Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

More About the Author

Keith Thomson played semi-pro baseball in France and drew editorial cartoons for New York Newsday before becoming a writer. His novels include the New York Times Bestselling ONCE A SPY and SEVEN GRAMS OF LEAD. He lives in Alabama.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

66 of 70 people found the following review helpful By J. Michael Click VINE VOICE on February 2, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Keith Thomson's debut novel is a rollercoaster of a spy thriller that zips along at a breakneck pace, careening along a sharp track full of twists and turns and peaks and valleys that leave the reader breathless with excitement. What great fun, from the first page to the last, especially for those who are willing to hold on tight and just enjoy the ride!

Charlie Clark is an inveterate gambler on a lifetime losing streak who is summoned to a senior citizen's center to arrange for his father's long-term care. It seems as though the elder Clark is suffering from the early symptoms of Alzheimer's disease, and passes in and out of awareness. Father and son have never really been close - but they're about to appreciate each other on an entirely new level as it becomes increasingly evident that Dad had a secret career as a master spy, and has now been targeted for elimination due to his faltering memory!

Thomson has created two delightful eccentrics in Charlie and Drummond Clark, and the novel is a perfect balance of character development and plot. The action never flags until the final paragraph, and it's laced with plenty of witty dialogue and dry humor. Here's hoping that "Once a Spy" proves to be the first in a new series. Climb aboard, buckle yourself in, and get ready for a one of a kind adventure that you won't want to end!
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33 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Johnson Clancy on March 13, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"Once a Spy" is about a retired CIA black ops man, Drummond Clark, who suffers from Alzheimer's and thus is perceived by his ex-colleagues as a risk to leak their secret of "the device," which is vital to national security. So they conclude that it's for "the greater good" that Drummond have an accident. A fatal one, of course.

The only person Drummond can rely on for aid is his estranged son, Charlie, a career underachiever and professional horseplayer who only ever known his father as a dull appliance salesman. Charlie tries to institutionalize Drummond, but before they can get to the nursing home, bullets start flying, and things start blowing up, almost every page.

In vivid, lighting-paced chapters that read like scenes from the best action movies, Charlie must solve the mystery of why assassins are trying to kill him and the old washing machine salesman, then develop the spine to do something about it. Drummond, in periodic episodes of lucidity, remembers bit here and there that offer clues. Sometimes he aids in their defense too--he fights and shoots at a world class level. Other times, he imparts tradecraft, like hot-wiring cars and disguise techniques. The previously estranged father and son come together, poignantly, and making a smashing team. Literally smashing.

The thrilling story that results is not just an adrenaline-fueled rollercoaster ride, as many others have commented. It's a revelation in the thriller genre, as novelist Lincoln Child avows. LeCarré books are wonderfully crafted (Thomson is no slouch with the written word either) but slow-paced. Other luminaries in the genre, Flynn and Thor, don't have characters with the depth and dimension of Drummond or Charlie. Or the wit.
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62 of 69 people found the following review helpful By M. S. Butch VINE VOICE on February 7, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
"Once a Spy" starts of at a run. Charlie Clark, 30-ish slacker in general and racetrack gambler, gets a call from a local senior center asking him to pick up his father, who was found wandering the streets of Brooklyn in his pajamas. Charlie is estranged from his father, Drummond Clark, who never paid much attention to him, preferring instead his job as an appliance salesman. When Charlie picks up his father, however, bullets begin to fly, and it soon becomes apparent that Drummond knows as much about espionnage as about appliances, if only his Alzheimers weren't destroying his memory.

The foregoing is not a spoiler, since as much can be learned from the book's dust jacket. I was fascinated by the premise, and carried away by the speed of the chase. The story rockets forward in the time-honored manner of Ludlum and his literary descendants, as Drummond and Charlie try to stay alive and find out why so many people are trying to kill Drummond, and now, Charlie as well. It's an enjoyable ride, even though, the survival of our heroes becomes ever more improbable.

My reservations are similar to those I have with this genre generally: after a while I get a little tired of the progression "information tidbit -- gunfight -- information tidbit -- gunfight" that forms the backbone of the structure. The way Drummond's Alzheimers makes him fade in and out of coherence is, perhaps, just a little too convenient. And finally, the story would be more fully alive if a few spots were less sketchy -- like, for example, why Charlie is so unmotivated and whether he has any kind of job.

Even so, I hope that our duo returns for another episode, or at least that Thomson keeps writing. I'll be happy to read the next volume.
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful By a VINE VOICE on February 5, 2010
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It is easy to call a novel a "rollercoaster thrill ride," but that is absolutely the case for "Once a Spy." The action, quite literally, never lets up for the entire length of the novel, which is both exciting and exhausting. I honestly would have preferred slightly longer pauses between the action sequences, which could have explored the father-son relationship a little more. I suppose I will have to wait for the inevitable, and nicely set up, sequel to find out more about these interesting characters.

The premise of a former spy suffering from Alzheimer's and his deadbeat son on the run from deadly assassins is fantastic and thought-provoking. It is handled in a surprising and witty manner, and without giving away any of the many twists and turns, the reader is forever at a lost as to who can be trusted and where the truth really lies. Recommended, but brace yourself!
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