The problem with memoirs by ex-secret agents is that they usually make their careers sound about as exciting as that of $6-an-hour bowling alley security guard, unless you're of the opinion that filing papers and making phone calls is the epitome of thrills. Antonio Mendez, however, has produced a tome that makes the life of a CIA agent sound every bit the slam-bang world of intrigue and skulking in the shadows that movies like Mission: Impossible
make it out to be.
Honored by the CIA on its 50th anniversary as being one of the agency's 50 "Trailblazers," the now-retired Mendez spins a fast-paced tale of intriguing characters partaking in skullduggery in exotic locales, made all the more appealing because Mendez himself is the featured star of the proceedings. In an almost offhand manner, he writes about seeing and doing things that would wilt the flower of courage in almost any reader. "Was I proud to be enlisting," he rhetorically ponders at one point, "on our side in the Cold War? You bet." Originally drafted by the CIA as a "technical artist" to provide cover for agents behind enemy lines, Mendez worked his way up the ladder and progressed to a full-fledged agent in the field, sneaking diplomats past enemy guards and spiriting informants into the night, eluding capture and torture at every turn--and using his artist's eye for detail to paint vivid word pictures of his predicaments. Mendez possesses a remarkably keen sense of the mechanics of a good cloak-and-dagger story, and fortunately pours it on in abundance here in his quite hefty--and surprisingly lively--autobiography. --Tjames Madison
From Publishers Weekly
Former CIA chief of disguise Mendez was an award-winning spy (yes, they have awards). Here, given unique permission by that agency to write about his career, he offers an entertaining and action-filled, though restrained, memoir of his Cold War clandestine service, emphasizing the gritty, complicated realities of intelligence work. Experienced as an illustrator and seeking a little excitement, in 1965 he answered a newspaper ad for navy artists to work overseas, and soon found himself signing on with "the Company" as a graphics specialist in the technical services division. Mendez effectively conveys the tension of forging documents on short notice and knowing that an agent's life depended on his accuracy. The ambitious Mendez quickly sought overseas transfer; this, coupled with his innovations in the then nascent fields of alias creation, countersurveillance and disguise, made him into a sought-after specialist who was brought in to numerous hot spots to perform daunting tasks. The book is packed with these stories, but the detail on espionage techniques his team developed can be excessively dry, and Mendez at times turns abruptly circumspect to avoid divulging current components of spycraft. Mendez offers a balanced and humanized portrait of life within the CIA, acknowledging the strain on agents' families, and grounds his tale in the Cold War era's historical realities, producing a volume with appeal for both spy buffs and the simply curious. 8 pages of photos not seen by PW. 6-city author tour.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.