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The Secret Agent Mass Market Paperback – April 1, 2003


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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Mathews, a former CIA agent, delivers the goods in a powerful, atmospheric thriller suggested by the colorful life and mysterious disappearance of Jim Thompson, who served as the first chief of U.S. Intelligence in Bangkok and founded the famed Thai silk company that still bears his name. In the author's telling, Thompson is Jack Broderick, whose grandson Max stakes his claim to the treasure of ancient artifacts and jewels amassed by the Silk King and appropriated by the Thai government after he vanished into the jungle at the height of the Vietnam War. When Max hires Oliver Krane's "risk management" firm to help him secure his legacy, Krane offers the brilliant and beautiful Stefani Fogg an irresistible challenge: prove Max's claim by solving the riddle of who Jack Broderick really was. Cutting back and forth between the past and present, Mathews weaves a fascinating web of intrigue and adventure that encompasses four decades of American involvement in southeast Asia as Krane leads Stefani into a shifting, shadowy world where nothing is ever as it seems, including the truth. The characters are unforgettable, the pacing is impeccable, and the narrative never loses focus despite the complicated plot in a page-turner that richly fulfills the promise of the author's first espionage novel (The Cutout). --Jane Adams --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

Mathews, writing as Stephanie Barron, has had considerable success splicing mystery plots with the real-life story of novelist Jane Austen. Now she takes another true story, that of a legendary American spy and silk merchant named Jim Thompson, and tries - with somewhat less success but lots of old-fashioned panache - to turn it into adventure fiction. Like Thompson, her protagonist, Jack Roderick, worked for the OSS (and its successor, the CIA) in Bangkok from 1945 until he disappeared in Malaysia in 1967. Unlike Thompson, Roderick had a son, Rory, who was killed in Vietnam, and a grandson, Max, who becomes an Olympic ski champion. It's Max who starts the narrative engine here when he tries to pressure the Thai government to turn his grandfather's fabulous house in Bangkok over to him. Soon, Max is one step ahead of a murderous plot that leads him to call on the services of a risk management expert called Oliver Krane. Krane in turn persuades Stefani Fogg - an attractive, deceptively fragile financial expert with a checkered past - to help Max in his quest. If this all sounds complicated and confusing, it is - especially since Mathews interrupts her present-day story (which zooms from the Scottish Highlands to the French Alps and then to Vietnam and Bangkok) with constant flashbacks to Jack Roderick's adventures and Rory's Vietnam saga. It's easy to see why Mathews, who worked for the CIA herself as an analyst, became fascinated with Thompson and Bangkok, but even her strong narrative skills (and superb action set pieces involving natural disasters like a typhoon and an avalanche) are hard-pressed to keep this jerky train on its tracks.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Mass Market Paperback: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Bantam; Reprint edition (April 1, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0553581538
  • ISBN-13: 978-0553581539
  • Product Dimensions: 6.9 x 4.2 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 2.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,957,004 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Too many characters.
Ken C.
Last night I re-watched the Magnificent Seven - haven't seen it in 20+ years.
Bluewater cruiser
That's the worst thing that I could say about any espionage book.
"nevermindthenickname"

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By W. Phinizy on January 7, 2005
Format: Mass Market Paperback
The whole world is divided into two types of people: those who divide things into two groups and those who do not..

..seriously, Ms. Matthews book oscillates wildly between "chick flick" material and the obligitory, leader-of-the-pack, head-of-the class, "high lift, low-drag" (thank you, Harry Coyle) heroine and characters that occupy the pages of this spy/CIA/former OSS agent genre. The flashbacks to post World War II Siam save the book, in my humble opinion, but she could come off a little better if she softened the hardened-bitch-longing-for-a-relationship-to-restore-a-loveless-past schtick engaged in by Ms. Fogg. (a relative of that other world-traveler, Phineas?) She could also redo the character of Oliver Kane and lose some of that too-cute dialog he is always spouting at the other end of the pay phone, ducky. Entertaining at times and *definitely* better than Finder's "Extraordinary Powers" -- but then, almost every work of fiction is (he said, gratiuitously). Still there is this indulgence in brand-name-dropping and labels. Why do we need to know *every* brand of caviar, liquor, skis, etc. Is this some kind of product placement deal?

*sigh*
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Harriet Klausner #1 HALL OF FAME on July 6, 2002
Format: Hardcover
The "Legendary American" joined the OSS during World War II and remained with the espionage group when it was converted into the CIA. In 1945 Jack Roderick enters Bangkok. Over the next two decades he lives in Thailand rarely leaving the country and becomes known as "The Silk King" perhaps for his successful merchant business or as many locals claim as his cover for his work as a foreign spy. However, in 1967, Jack vanishes never to be seen again at about the same time that his son dies in Nam.

Decades later, Jack's grandson, Olympic ski champion Max, demands that the Thai government turn over to him his grandfather's possessions including a spectacular house in Bangkok. Instead of owning a new home, Max finds himself embroiled in a deadly conspiracy. He turns to risk expert Oliver Krane and financial guru Stefani Fogg for help.

When this historical fiction focuses on three generations of Rodericks, it is an exciting story that will electrify the audience who need to know what happened to Jack THE SECRET AGENT, desire to understand more about Rory, and want to see what will occur to Max. On the other hand, the Stefani subplot detours the story line away from its prime theme. Still, Francine Mathews provides an interesting novel filled with plenty of action and an intriguing look back at Southeast Asia during the Nam period that will excite fans of twentieth century thrillers.

Harriet Klausner
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful By "nevermindthenickname" on July 19, 2003
Format: Mass Market Paperback
She may be a former CIA agent, but that does not make her an interesting writer of spy fiction. Bored-to-tears through page 50 at which point the book was tossed into the "give to the Red Cross" bag. Good spy books are supposed to be heavy on the plot and setting, not all that deep on character. Just enough to outline the players with out being overbearing. There is plenty of character development (too much) that leads to nothing. I'm a former military intel guy. Tradecraft isn't all that interesting to me but storyline is. If you enjoy Littell, Deighton or LeCarre, avoid this book. Maybe the "beach book" readers will find it interesting. That's the worst thing that I could say about any espionage book.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Daffydd on June 2, 2005
Format: Mass Market Paperback
I found this on a recommended shelf of a bookstore I frequent. It wasn't one I would recommend, nor one I would avoid. There were stretches in the story I was really drawn in, but it never became one 'I just couldn't put down'... which I did a couple times reading something else instead, but I did come back to the novel after a while wanting to know a little more of what was going on and what had gone on.
There is a current story, and a history that is also being revealled that is the imputus of the current story, and that worked for me. I just didn't have an attachment to the main character. Other readers DID.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By John R. Linnell on August 24, 2004
Format: Mass Market Paperback Verified Purchase
I have seen some of the reviews of this book, especially Newt's. It was his that made me buy it. Perhaps I am not enough of an "insider" to appreciate this story, but I found it compelling at times, boring at times and the flipping back and forth between the present and the past at the least, distracting.

So, I would say, for a paperback price it may be worth your reading.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Dan Coughlin on August 14, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Francine Mathews is a gifted, intelligent writer! I really enjoyed her writing, but the "timing" between the two story lines, fell short.
The story begins with a bored, highly energized women on Wall Street. Stefani Fogg, who happens to be a Portfolio Manager, decides to throw away her career for a life of James Bond type excitement. Mathews does a great job in this book, showing how the "green" Ms. Fogg is "used" by her superiors and her enemies. The book follows two stories, the story of Stefani's adventure with Max Roderick and his Grandfather, Jack Roderick (portraying the real life CIA agent, Jim Thompson).
The story starts by concentrating on Stefani's adventure and then...boom, right when you can't wait to get to the next page, the story backtracks to the life of Jack Roderick. This is where I find fault with this book. The story tends to pull away from the most interesting and exciting parts, at the wrong time!
As the book continues, we are introduced to many characters, so much, that it takes away from the drama. At times, I found myself struggling to get through some of Jack's life (which is interesting, but I want to get back to Stefani!!). As Mathews lays out the foundation for each story line, the clutter of characters, the unnecessary or extra chapters of Jack's life, takes away from the drama in Stefani's new world.
In conclusion, the challanges of being an agent and the inexperiecne of Stefani Fogg, the (frequent) flashbacks to Jack Rodericks daily and CIA life, along with multiple characters, makes this book difficult. I understand that Mathews did intensive research on Jim Thompsons life, but I have to question the choice of such an inexperienced character to unravel one of the most complex mysteries to date.?
Francine Mathews has the talent for a 5 star book, but in honesty, this book missing that mark~!
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