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A gathering of spies
Publication Information:
New York : Putnam's, ©2000.
Physical Description:
305 pages ; 24 cm
A female Nazi agent bearing the secrets of Los Alamos is pitted against an M15 agent with secrets of his own. Originally recruited into M15 to pose as a double agent, he's been telling the Germans that he'd do anything to free his wife, a prisoner of a Polish concentration camp. This happens to be true. But the question is, how much would he really do to set her free?
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Every once in a while, a new thriller writer emerges with such an instant command of his craft that readerseverywhere take notice. Such a one is John Altman, with A Gathering of Spies.In l943, America thought it had rounded up all the German spies on its soil. It was wrong. Now, Germany'sgreatest weapon-a woman with special talents, both for tradecraft and for death-is headed home with criticalinformation about the still-developing atomic bomb, and the Allies' chief hope for stopping her is a British agentwith agendas of his own. Originally recruited into MI5 to pose as a double agent, he's been telling the Germansthat he'd do anything to free his wife, a prisoner of a Polish concentration camp. This happens to be true. Thequestion is: How much would he really do to set her free? Where are his loyalties exactly?As the two spies play cat-and-mouse games across three countries, the ambiguities deepen, each figure showingnew sides, each action providing new twists, until at last both agents are swept into a series of climaxes asunpredictable as they are inevitable. This is suspense writing at its best-and the beginning of a brilliant newcareer.

Author Notes

John Altman was born in White Plains, New York on October 8, 1969, and is a graduate of Harvard University. In addition to writing fiction, he has worked as a teacher, musician, and freelance writer. He has penned several thrillers, including; The Art of the Devil: A Plot to Assassinate President Eisenhower, The Watchmen, A Game of Spies, Deception, and A Gathering of Spies.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

This atmospheric debut thriller smells deliciously of Hitchcock and 1940s British spy films. Beautiful Catherine Danielson Carter is really Katarina Heinrich, a Nazi spy who has gone deep undercover, found work as a housekeeper in Princeton, N.J., and married her employer. As the wife of aging nuclear scientist Richard Carter, Katarina is able to get work at a federal shipbuilding plant. Her instincts are aroused when her husband is invited to work on the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos, N.M. Taking advantage of her situation, Katarina finds a letter from Albert Einstein that details the plans for the A-bomb. Galvanized into action, she murders her way to several new identities in her quest to get her information to London, where her former lover and fellow agent, Fritz Meissner, is stationed. Fritz has ostensibly been recruited by the British as a double agent working for Operation Double Cross, feeding misinformation to the Germans. The Americans discover Katarina's true identity and trail her to England, where they warn Andrew Taylor, head of MI5. He, in turn, recruits brilliant Prof. Harry Winterbotham to expose Fritz and aid in the search for Katarina. Winterbotham agrees to help, while hatching a secret plan to rescue his Jewish wife, who is trapped in Poland. In painting a perfect WWII British setting complete with quirky characters reeking of mutton and pipe tobacco, Altman belies his U.S. origins. But throw in Admiral Canaris's plot to assassinate Hitler, a double- or triple-cross in every chapter, covert Nazi submarines, a lighthouse and a plethora of bodies, and you get an irresistible page-turner from a welcome new voice in the genre. 75,000 first printing; $100,000 ad/promo; foreign rights sold in Italy and the Netherlands. (July) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Kirkus Review

A debut suspenser chock-full of the requisite genre elements--plus a lot more gore than even those specs call for. Katerina Heinrich is a Nazi agent. To leave it at that, however, is to understate considerably. She's not only a spy, but she may be the best spy who's ever lived. She's cunning, trained to kill in umpteen thousand different ways, has the beauty of sirens, and is motivated to the point of zealotry. We meet her first in New York in 1933, where the far-seeing Nazis have planted her. By page three she's committed murder, her victim a blameless young woman whose identity she appropriates. It's this act that eventually--plotting gets a bit shaky here--leads her to Los Alamos in time to cotton onto atomic bomb secrets, which she's determined to deliver to the Fatherland. In the meantime, in England, Professor Harry Winterbotham, an elderly, scholarly literature teacher, is following his own unlikely path into the espionage business. He's been recruited by MI-5 to help perpetrate the famous 'Operation Double Cross,' the intricate feint that bamboozled the Germans into guessing wrong about D-Day. Though Winterbotham is no ideologue, he's no less motivated than Katerina. He adores his wife Ruth. The Nazis are holding her in Dachau, and Winterbotham has his own, very private plan to gain her freedom no matter what the cost. Predictably, then, two paths are made to converge in order to stage a climactic confrontation. And so there they are--the old professor and the young Mata Hari--with their hands on each other's throats while the fate of nations hangs in the balance. Beatings, shootings, knifings, stranglings, some of it graphically detailed, most of it competently handled--but all of it oh-so-familiar. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Booklist Review

Set in 1943, Altman's espionage tale mixes the atom bomb, Operation Double Cross, and the anti-Hitler conspiracy, which is rather too many subjects. Consequently, the story defaults to simplistic pursuit and hand-to-hand-combat mode. The protagonist, virtuoso killer Katarina Heinrich, is a Nazi agent whose husband works at Los Alamos. After snooping around, she finds Einstein's famous letter to FDR recommending construction of "extremely powerful bombs of a new type." To warn her beloved Vaterland, she must get to England and contact a fellow agent, whom the British have "turned" as part of Double Cross. Walking into the trap, our antiheroine turns the tables with virtuosic martial arts and knife skills. Leaving a bloody mess behind and creating a few more en route to the coast to catch a U-boat, she runs right into the subplot. Henry Winterbotham, a Double Cross "dangle" who poses as a disgruntled intelligence officer, is also waiting for the boat. After some more mayhem, he, not she, gets to Germany, where he is fed a message for Churchill from military intelligence chief Wilhelm Canaris: Will the British agree to an armistice in the event of an anti-Nazi coup? Altman is said to be writing a sequel, doubtless devoted to the denouement of Canaris' inquiry and the further adventures of femme fatale Katarina. Advertising will generate attention, but predictable Katarina and her operations lack the intricacies that impress spy-thriller buffs. --Gilbert Taylor