“Safe Houses” by Dan Fes­per­man, Knopf, 416 pages, $26.95

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday) - - Books -

In Bal­ti­more-based spy mas­ter Dan Fes­per­man’s lat­est, the past eerily over­laps with the pre­sent via two art­fully linked sto­ries.

In 1979, He­len Abell, a lowly 23-year-old CIA worker sta­tioned in Ber­lin, wit­nesses a high-rank­ing agent sex­u­ally abuse a woman in a safe house and comes out of hid­ing to stop the at­tack. Though warned by her su­pe­ri­ors to back off the case, Abell be­comes de­ter­mined to make the agent pay for what she learns is only the lat­est in a se­ries of such as­saults. She goes rogue from the Com­pany and the com­pro­mised CIA op­er­a­tive with whom she was hav­ing an af­fair.

Twenty-five years later, while liv­ing in a farm­house on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, she and her hus­band are shot­gunned to death. The mur­der is pinned on their men­tally chal­lenged 24-year-old son, Wil­lard, but his older sis­ter Anna knows he never could have com­mit­ted such an act. She hires an in­ves­ti­ga­tor to help her un­cover the truth, not know­ing any­thing about her se­cre­tive mother’s past.

Like the best es­pi­onage nov­els, “Safe Houses” bril­liantly traces the dis­tance be­tween high moral ground and low. Part of the fun of the book is read­ing it for a sec­ond time and see­ing how the nar­ra­tive seeds of the first part en­rich and deepen what oc­curs in part two.

“The Throw­away” by Michael Moreci, Forge, 318 pages, $25.99

Best known for his comic books and sci-fi fic­tion (“Black Star Rene­gades”), Chicagoan Michael Moreci makes a se­ri­ous foray into es­pi­onage fic­tion with this brisk and timely thriller.

His odd man out is Mark Strain, a some­times shady Wash­ing­ton lob­by­ist whose happy fu­ture with his preg­nant wife, Sarah, is up­ended when fed­eral agents in­vade their bed­room, ac­cuse him of be­ing a Rus­sian spy and hand him over to Rus­sian in­tel­li­gence — sup­pos­edly as part of a pris­oner ex­change. This comes af­ter a done-deal with a client of Strain’s to pro­vide the Pen­tagon with its se­cu­rity soft­ware is un­ex­pect­edly scotched. What cut­throat sold him out? What state se­crets are so at risk that he is ex­pend­able? He has plenty of ques­tions that need an­swer­ing af­ter he es­capes the clutches of the Rus­sians and fights his way back to Wash­ing­ton.

“The Throw­away” boasts a wide as­sort­ment of cliches and stock char­ac­ters. But Moreci is good at ac­tion scenes, a friendly fe­male dou­ble agent livens things up, and you can bet the Russkies are go­ing to go af­ter Sarah af­ter los­ing their man. Moreci’s unas­sum­ing style also pays div­i­dends: This is that rare con­tem­po­rary thriller that is happy to treat the reader to a clean, lin­ear nar­ra­tive.

“Rip the An­gels From Heaven” by David Krugler, Pe­ga­sus, 336 pages, $25.95

The year is 1945. Rarely has a dou­ble agent been in more over his head than naval in­tel­li­gence man El­lis Voigt. He is be­ing tar­geted not only by the Rus­sians he has in­fil­trated — they sus­pect he had some­thing to do with the dis­ap­pear­ance of the head of their Wash­ing­ton spy ring — but by the FBI, which thinks he’s a Com­mie who mur­dered a Navy of­fi­cer.

At the heart of the plot is the pass­ing of cru­cial in­tel about the atomic re­search go­ing on in New Mex­ico. As in “The Throw­away,” the hero hooks up with an at­trac­tive fe­male play­ing both sides of the street. Be­fore lur­ing the Rus­sians into a dis­in­for­ma­tion scheme in Los Alamos (where Richard Feyn­man makes a guest ap­pear­ance), he must en­dure a gru­el­ing tor­ture ses­sion you may want to skip past. He also is tor­mented by his fail­ure to save a young boy from get­ting shot.

“Rip the An­gels From Heaven” has its own cliche prob­lems, not to men­tion un­for­tu­nate lines such as, “My mind raced as I tried to keep my com­po­sure.” But au­thor David Krugler is ter­rific at pe­riod de­tails and at­mos­phere, and makes a com­pli­cated plot tick — and go off.

Lloyd Sachs, a free­lancer, writes reg­u­larly about crime fic­tion for the Tri­bune. HARDCOVER NON­FIC­TION

1. “The Rus­sia Hoax: The Il­licit Scheme to Clear Hil­lary Clin­ton and Frame Don­ald Trump” by Gregg Jar­rett

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