Book Review: Tess Gerritsen writes an un-put-downable spin on espionage novels with 'The Spy Coast'

Maggie Bird just wants to relax into a quiet retirement, raising chickens in the cold little town of Purity, Maine. Even in these remote woods, though, trouble manages to find her. She’ll have to face her past if she has any hope of staying alive.

Spy novel meets travelog with a murder mystery in “The Spy Coast,” Book 1 of the new “Martini Club” series. Engrossing from the get-go, Tess Gerritsen’s prose is undeniable — a true professional at sucking you right into the story.

When a young spy shows up dead outside Maggie’s home, her friends immediately jump to action, recalling their former lives as CIA operatives.

They may be in their 60s now, but these retirees are more than capable, exasperating Officer Jo Thibodeau. While the young police chief's involvement in the case is an annoying obstacle for Maggie, she can’t help but be beguiled by this woman who reminds her of her former self. Jo’s constant run-ins with the self-named Martini Club promise her character will have a lasting place in this fiction.

Throughout the novel, we learn about Maggie’s final job 16 years ago: Operation Cyrano. These flashbacks slowly reveal bits about Danny — the man Maggie met in Bangkok — and his connection to the messy end of her career.

In her author’s note, Gerritsen says she “wanted to write about spies who don’t look like James Bond.” She exceeded her goal by miles, handling the Martini Club’s old age beautifully and foregoing a glamorized portrayal of espionage in favor of one that reflects a grind — a job just like any other, except for the high likelihood of death.

Gerritsen has dozens of titles under her belt, including the novels that inspired the TV series “Rizzoli & Isles,” and her wealth of experience shows. She makes it look seamlessly easy; every piece fits together, every chapter is gripping and fun, blood spatters are described with just the right level of ominous medical accuracy. And with the same level of detail, she describes amazing dishes from around the world, their flavor notes mouthwateringly cataloged.

Most chapters focus on Maggie, the only character to get first-person perspective, though Gerritsen affords us the occasional, tantalizing glimpse into what’s going on with other key players. It’s the perfect mix — Maggie completely won me over, and getting to be in her head is an absolute treat.

“The Spy Coast” is a positively devourable and un-put-downable start to what promises to be an excellent series.


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