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The Prodigal Spy

3.79  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,032 Ratings  ·  94 Reviews
In a time of accusations, treachery and lies, some secrets were heartbreaking....

Others were deadly.

Once, Nick Kotlar tried to save his father. From the angry questions. From the accusations. From a piece of evidence that only Nick knew about and that he destroyed—for his father. But in the Red Scare of 1950 Walter Kotlar could not be saved. Branded a spy, he fled the coun
Paperback, 537 pages
Published November 9th 1999 by Island Books (first published May 28th 1998)
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Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le CarréThe Bourne Identity by Robert LudlumThe Spy Who Came In from the Cold by John le CarréThe Hunt for Red October by Tom ClancyThe Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth
Best Spy Novels
447th out of 876 books — 1,549 voters
The Prodigal Spy by Joseph KanonThe Good German by Joseph KanonLos Alamos by Joseph KanonAlibi by Joseph KanonStardust by Joseph Kanon
Best of Joseph Kanon
1st out of 10 books — 2 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,661)
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Mal Warwick
Dec 17, 2015 Mal Warwick rated it really liked it
Joseph Kanon has been writing spy novels set largely in post-World War II Europe since 1997, when his debut novel, Los Alamos, was published. That book won the Edgar Award for Best First Novel — well-deserved recognition for an outstanding thriller that was also an accomplished work of historical fiction. Most of his six later novels were equally captivating: well-written, well-researched, and well received by critics and readers alike.

The Prodigal Spy, the only one of Kanon’s seven novels that
An intriguing tale of a boy, Nicholas, whose father defected to Russia in the wake of accusations and testimony before the McCarthy hearings. As an adult, he gets drawn into his father's secrets and has to deploy skills in suberfuge and brave actions to resolve the mystery, mostly in Czeoslovakia soon after the Russian takeover near the end of the Vietnam War. Nice mix of stories about a family torn apart by political events on the one hand and about corruption of national morals in the Cold War ...more
Sam Reaves
May 20, 2015 Sam Reaves rated it really liked it
Joseph Kanon has written a number of very good novels involving espionage and other crimes, set in the second half of the twentieth century in a wide variety of places, from the American Southwest to Istanbul. His characters are well-realized, his plots devious, and his sense of place vivid. In short, I like his stuff a lot.
This one starts in McCarthy-era Washington, D.C. and then jumps to Prague in 1969, the height of the Cold War. It tells the story of Nick Kotlar, whose father, when unmasked
Jul 01, 2016 Ed rated it liked it
The problem with this novel is that it is schizophrenic; there is a leisurely character development and exploration of an historical era, and there is an exciting spy caper with a climax including J. Edgar Hoover as a character. At 536 pages, the novel is almost long enough for both. The first half suffers from a lack of movement and when everything does start moving the actions of two amateur detectives performing surveillance in Washington, D.C. is too quickly and unexplainably successful for ...more
May 04, 2016 Jonathan rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
This is one of Joseph Kanon's earlier novels which may account for its more straightforward story, though definitely not a simplistic one. A child's life is shaped by his father's leaving the country, where he was a well respected government figure, as his role as a communist spy comes to light. Years pass, the father signals from exile in Prague that he wants to see his son. What results from this brief intermingling of the past and present engages the son in a determined quest to find out who ...more
John Treanor
Oct 29, 2011 John Treanor rated it it was ok
An okay Cold War spy novel. Was a bit iffy to begin with, and I don't know why Kanon always feels the need to include a love story (at least in his first two books) - it's like he's pre-Hollywood-izing his books for the screen. This one even included a very explicit sex scene, which was weird. But the book recovers and even gets pretty good in Cold War Czechoslovakia. Starts slow, finishes strong.
Alexandria Orlando
Jan 05, 2015 Alexandria Orlando rated it it was ok
Shelves: couldnt-finish
Just Couldn't Finish
I love to read, and I almost never not finish a book. And I tried so hard to finish this book, I really did. But this is just one book that I absolutely could not finish. The Prodigal Spy had real potential at first. The first section of the book, which describes the time in which Walter Kotlar was on trial for suspected of being a Communist, pulled me in immediately. I couldn't wait to read more about the young boy who was now a young man, and the mystery that surrounded him
Jul 30, 2011 Jennifer rated it did not like it
OMG so boring!! I couldn't even finish this book. If you need something to help you fall asleep at night, I'd definitely recommend that you pick this one up. I couldn't get through 2 pages of this at a time without my mind wandering or drifting off to sleep. I eventually put it down because life if too short to read boring books!!!
David Tendo
Aug 08, 2011 David Tendo rated it it was ok
In one word: boring. This had all the potential to be a gripping espionage thriller, but the extremely slow pace makes it agonising to read.
Apr 08, 2016 Gerry rated it really liked it
Better written than Los Alamos (which I enjoyed), this is the story of a McCarthy-era Communist spy/defector told from the viewpoint of his son, who learns in adulthood that his father’s situation was more complicated than even his father had understood, with disloyalty and betrayal on both sides. Great ending twist, when Nick learns that his step-father was the one who’d betrayed his father (and then married his mother to keep her from ever finding out and testifying against him?), and her prie ...more
Martha Bratton
Dec 05, 2015 Martha Bratton rated it really liked it
Wow. The Cold War was tricky. It takes a complex story like this one to give a clue as to how much mutual spying and misguided shenanigans were going on in the 50s and 60s. The main character is naive and brave, eventually getting a little sneakier himself to survive. This is the second Kanon book I've read, and I'll read more after I recover from the revelations in this book about what was happening while I was a clueless kid in school. It reminds me that we rarely understand how the current da ...more
Dec 18, 2010 Scilla rated it liked it
In 1950 Nick's father, Walter Kotlar, a high-level State Department official, is accused of treason and being a communist by an ambitious congressman. During the hearings, the woman who accused him falls from a hotel window to her death, and Nick's father goes to Moscow. Many years later, Nick's mother has married his father's best friend who has adopted him. Nick is in England, and Molly, a young woman approaches him and tells him his father wants to see him in Soviet-occupied Czechoslovakia. N ...more
Aug 13, 2010 Ed rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Spy story and historical fiction fans
I had not heard of Joseph Kanon before reading this book. This is surprising as I generally enjoy reading spy stories.

While not up to the level of Alan Furst or John LeCarre, nevertheless, this is a suspenseful story. It takes place in two time frames: during the "Red Scare" of the late 1940s and early 50s and, later, during the Vietnam War and the Nixon Administration of the early 1970s. The plot unfolds in two major cities Washington, DC and Prague, Czechoslovakia.

The protagonist, Nick Kotlar
Gerald Sinstadt
Jan 01, 2010 Gerald Sinstadt rated it it was amazing
I came to The Prodigal Spy from Los Alamos - hopeful but wondering if the second novel could match the standards set by the first. I need not have worried.

There are enough surprises (at least until the final pages) to sustain the narrative thrust but at the same time they restrain a reviewer from revealing too much of the plot. Suffice to say that it is soundly based in McCarthy era America and Iron Curtain Czechoslovakia still recovering from the suicide of Jan Masaryk. The atmosphere is convi
Richard Toscan
Oct 27, 2013 Richard Toscan rated it did not like it
I've liked Kanon's other novels set primarily in Eastern Europe, but this one is a strange piece of work, compounded by having a central character who for most of the novel is an insufferable twit. Why this kid (he's in his mid-20s) is such a dense fool is unclear until you realize that the plot is so thin that something needs to drive the dialogue and what better (worse) to use than someone who's so clueless that everyone has to repeat the same warnings and arguments to him multiple times. The ...more
Jan 11, 2016 Lew rated it did not like it
In a work as plot-driven as this one, it would pay not to be so obvious about what's coming. There is really only one possibility, which I think most readers would recognize early on. The only reason the climax is a shock is that the action doesn't fit the characters, as we've come to understand them (through one hell of a lot of conversation), and the suspicion that we didn't really know them well at all is confirmed. A far cry from Le Carre.
Canadian 135
Apr 26, 2015 Canadian 135 rated it really liked it
Interesting spy novel. Nick Kotlar's father is accused of being a Communist - and disappears during House hearings into the accusations, only to reappear in the Soviet Union years later. Twenty years later, Nick is contacted surreptitiously, and must go to Prague to reunite with his father, learn more about his father's Communist connections, and the links to his present-day life.
Oct 26, 2015 John rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A good read. Kanon comes to the post-war commie witch hunts from a different angle than in Stardust, and then the aftermath 20 years later. It has a couple of satisfying twists at the end. It also, however, continues his trait of having protagonists who won't listen to sensible advice, even after it is stupid not to do so. In this case, not listening to Zimmerman.
Apr 21, 2014 Laura rated it liked it
This is a nice spy thriller historical novel. I was interested to see where the story would take me and to discover who did what to whom! It was a little slow. The writing does not have any prose to it . I enjoyed the way the ending tied everything together.
Mar 12, 2016 Lee rated it liked it
Shelves: books-read-2016
This is an intriguing book bringing back the politics of the McCarthy era in a new way. I am inclined to give it at least 3 stars but wish 3-1/2. Was available. Leads me to want to follow up with more books by this author.
Judy Bullard
Jul 04, 2015 Judy Bullard rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Great thriller.

I would highly recommend this book. Well written story that brings history alive again. The author brings to life places and events I lived through .
Dec 26, 2010 Jim rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: crime
This started well, with me believing that I'd finally found something meaty to get my reading teeth into. It seemed an interesting enough story, but the pace was so slow that I began to question the whole thing - why did this loving, caring, intelligent father just up and leave his adored wife and kid to go and live in Russia? Once I started to question the motivations of the characters I needed the plot to pick up and Get On With It, but Kanon was too involved in his characters to deliver on th ...more
Arthur Sylvester
Nov 10, 2015 Arthur Sylvester rated it really liked it
The book starts slowly but it has an intricate and engaging plot set in a city I had just visited. The conclusion falls off a little or I'd certainly give this a 5 rating.
Feb 26, 2016 Mary rated it really liked it
Another good one by Kanon. This one takes place in 1950 during the HUAC hearings and in Prague in 1969. Fast paced - I feel as if I've been on the run too.
Patricia Dexter
May 04, 2015 Patricia Dexter rated it liked it
Just okay; the story has potential, but the manner the author wrote all the dialogue was confusing. Overall, I would not recommend it to a friend...lots of other great books to read instead.
Jim Phelan
Apr 27, 2015 Jim Phelan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

overed Joseph Kanon's works recently and am delighted I did. As an American expat in China reading is my main form of entertainment. I read a lot and discovering Kanon's works has been like striking gold.
Drew me in.....plot decreased in intensity as book progressed. Solution became apparent before it was announced. Rather violent end was a surprise.
Jun 06, 2015 KateMoxie rated it it was amazing
Wow. Well written. Didn't start to suspect the culprits until the last 75 pages and even then was hopeful that it wasn't the one guy and did pick up on the hints about the instigator. Very satisfying conclusion.
Dec 12, 2015 Bill rated it liked it
This book was on a list of books that I read before 2005. So, I am adding it to my read books on GoodReads.
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