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The Prodigal Spy

3.75 of 5 stars 3.75  ·  rating details  ·  834 ratings  ·  76 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 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
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The Good German by Joseph KanonLos Alamos by Joseph KanonThe Prodigal Spy by Joseph KanonAlibi by Joseph KanonStardust by Joseph Kanon
Best of Joseph Kanon
3rd out of 6 books — 1 voter

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Community Reviews

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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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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 3 of 5 stars
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
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
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
Canadian 135
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.
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.
Judy Bullard
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 .
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
Patricia Dexter
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

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.
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 23, 2007 Sarah rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: People who like cold war spy stories
I think this is the best of Kanon's books. I know that The Good German was made into a movie which implies it is Kanon's bestseller but I think that The Prodigal Spy is his best. One of the htings I liked about it wa show different it was form the avergae spy story. This book is about a young, American man whose father had defected to Czechoslovakia because he was a communist spy. The young man is in Europe and finds his father.

Kanon's books are about how to deal with moral ambiguity and can be
A fun read, great entertainment. Good character development and a story you'll want to finish.
Lynn Pribus
Enjoyed this one. Smoothly written. Goes back to the days of the HUAC and then moves up to cold war in Czechoslovakia. Sort of Nancy Drew meets Le Carre with the naive U.S. son of a defector to Moscow being told by a mysterious (and beautiful, of course) young woman that his father now wants to see him.

The father disappeared when Nick was 10 and now says he is dying. Naturally, Nick goes to Prague with said mysterious female and spy-ish stuff ensues.

I went back to this one because it was one of
Luis Portas
When we read a spy/thriller story there are a few elements that we thrive to find. Cliffhangers are welcome, occasional crime and blood is acceptable... but J. Kanon seems shy to offer these perks to the reader. It is an interesting and thrilling iron curtain story, even sad and emotional at times, but it lacks the edge, the punch, that dash of spice we are all searching for when flipping through such a theme. Nevertheless I recommend it vividly... I mean... if you don't have a Daniel Silva or a ...more
Aug 02, 2008 Cecilia rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: anyone who likes mysteries or thrillers
Shelves: favorites
After reading Los Alamos, I couldn't wait for Kanon's next book. Considering that I love this one more than Alamos, I would say the wait was worth it. Kanon does a fantastic job here, as he did in Alamos of setting his stage...the 1950s, Washington D.C., the governmental bodies, etc. Once we get to know his main character, Nick, we already feel like we know how and where and when Nick lives. Using real Cold War threats, Kanon is able to make this could-be-normal thriller a classic!
Jul 18, 2015 Karen added it
I enjoy all of Joseph Kanon's books. Again it takes places during the Cold War, and add another dimension to what we thought was happening in those days. Kept you wondering up to the end.
A fascinating novel that explores the personal aftermath of the 1950 era Communist witch hunts. The character development is so complete that the reader almost thinks it is a memoir rather than fiction. The story is told from the point of view of the son of an accused Communist spy who defected to Russia before his trial was concluded. The adult son's exploration of what really happened to his father takes place in 1969, with the unpopular Vietnam war as background. Beautifully written!
I found this book at my public library on the featured authors shelf. Since I've read Los Alamos and The Good German by the same author and liked both of them very much, I thought I'd give this one a try and it didn't disappoint. This book is about a family who has been separated by the McCarthy trials of the early 1950's.

I absorbed this book almost whole. I am a fast reader anyway, but read this entire 410 page book in two days. I couldn't put it down.

Steve Kazan
Takes a long time to get good

If you enjoy cloak and dagger and Cold War Spies then this book is for you. The book could have used a good editor.
Excellent - Joseph Kanon's spy novels rival anything Le Carre did.
Perfectly readable, and more than interesting enough. Starts out in 1950 with a young boy's father before the HUAC, jumps to the boy in 1969 and a trip to Czechoslovakia (spying, Communists, etc.) and then back to DC/NYC and a run-in with Hoover (spying, anti-Communists!!). Kanon wrote the pretty good GOOD GERMAN.
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