Joseph Kanon's debut thriller, Los Alamos, captivated readers and critics alike and was awarded the 1998 Edgar Award for Best First Novel. The Prodigal Spy, set in the aftermath of the Manhattan Project, offers a glimpse at cold war espionage and a very personal story about theeffects of McCarthyism and the paranoia that it spawned. Once again, Kanon effortlessly weaves together history and fiction in prose that is thick with period details. The real achievement of the book, though, is the author's strong sense of his narrative centere, Nick Kotlar.
The novel begins in 1950 in the Kotlar home in Washington, D.C., as young Nick tries to make sense of the masses of reporters who have gathered outside his house. Though his parents struggle to shield him from the truth, he inadvertently sees a newsreel that reveals his father's predicament: State Department Undersecretary, Walter Kotlar, is under the intense scrutiny of Congressman Kenneth Welles of the House Un-American Activities Committee. Kanon perfectly captures the sensibilities of a child with a parent in peril; disbelieving Nick becomes a fledgling spy, trying to erase any clues in his home that might support Welles and his committee. But one night, after an explosive conversation with Nick's mother, his father disappears. That same night, the woman who had accused Walter Kotlar of spying commits suicide--or was she murdered? In 1953, Mr. Kotlar gives a press conference from Moscow announcing his defection. The book then moves to London in 1969, where Nick meets a young woman who tells him that not only is his father still alive but he has been keeping tabs on his son for the 19 years since he fled to the Soviet Union. This revelation draws Nick into a meeting with the seriously ill elder Kotlar and propels Nick into some intelligence gathering of his own--to uncover the man who caused Walter Kotlar's defection and who killed his father's accuser. With The Prodigal Spy, Kannon has once again breathed new life into spy fiction. --Patrick O'Kelley, Amazon.com