Reviews and Authors' Blurbs

Superbly entertaining and informative . . . easily the intelligence book of the year.
— Washington Times
Engaging . . . a noirish thriller that happens to be true.
— Wall Street Journal
[Denson] tackles the story with zest. . . . While The Spy’s Son packs plenty of spy-vs.-spy drama, the more interesting chapters are about the bond between a father and his son.
— Washington Post
Startling . . . Denson has a knack for sly wordplay (a ‘cubicle village’ at CIA headquarters is a ‘clean-well carpeted place full of file cabinets and misery’) and descriptions (at first, the elder Nicholson in court looks like a man who plays ‘tenor sax in a jazz quartet,’ but closer inspection reveals that ‘this guy knows he’s the smartest man in the building.’)
— Christian Science Monitor
Swaggering true-crime . . . This hardboiled, film noir page-turner is a compelling read, sure to fascinate fanatics of intrigue.
— Winnipeg Free Press
An extraordinary espionage case. . . . The book’s strength is its wonderful detail.
— BookPage
Filled with fascinating details of the cloak-and-dagger techniques of KGB and CIA operatives, double agents, and spy catchers . . . a poignant and painful tale of family love, loyalty, manipulation and betrayal.
— The Oregonian
The uncommon family business of selling information to Russia proves exciting, lucrative and remarkably misguided . . . The intricate portrait of Nicholson family life makes the father-son crime feel inevitable without ever coming off as dull. Denson puts his reporting chops to good use, packing the book with information but never overwhelming readers and maintaining tension, interest and momentum. . . . Captivating.
— Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
In a stunning piece of reporting Bryan Denson has unraveled one of the strangest spy stories in American history and written a haunting book as fast paced and as exciting as the best spy novel. It will keep readers awake as he takes them deep into a world of international espionage populated by KGB and CIA agents, American spy catchers and a family they’ll never forget—and it’s all true.
— Robert Lindsey, author of The Falcon and the Snowman
The Spy’s Son is an intelligence service’s worst nightmare—a double agent inside its walls. Human foibles of hubris and greed drive Jim Nicholson to betray his nation’s deepest secrets and his own family. Denson’s telling of the tale is riveting, agonizing, and for a former spook like me, sometimes heart-stopping.
— Valerie Plame, author of Fair Game
Gripping insight into the quiet war of spies, deception and treachery. As a former special agent, The Spy’s Son should be required reading for agents and anyone else interested in the cloak and dagger world of espionage.
— Fred Burton, author of Under Fire: The Untold Story of the Attack in Benghazi
The Spy’s Son is the amazing account of the dysfunctional Nicholson family’s foray into the treacherous world of selling out one’s country to the Russians. Denson’s suspenseful story of the Nicholsons’ reprehensible activities is an adventurous read, revealing tradecraft used by both spies and spy catchers. A true-life spy story spanning two decades in countries around the world, it is packed with danger, suspense and intrigue.
— Alan B. Trabue, CIA (Ret.), author of A Life of Lies and Spies
We always think of the damage a spy does to his country, and to his colleagues and friends, but seldom to his family. This is the solemn and excruciating tale of a real spy who intentionally and selfishly used his son as a go-between himself and his Russian masters after he had been caught and imprisoned, and nearly ruined his son’s life into the bargain. It is a splendid read.
— Frederick P. Hitz, former CIA Inspector general; author of The Great Game: The Myths and Reality of Espionage
The Spy’s Son expertly chronicles Jim Nicholson’s cold-blooded betrayal of both country and son. A gripping nonfiction read on par with a John Le Carre thriller.
— Pete Earley, author of Confessions of a Spy: The Real Story of Aldrich Ames

Malcolm Forbes (jointly reviewing The Spy’s Son and David E. Hoffman’s The Billion Dollar Spy) declared:

“It is becoming something of a cliché to refer to a riveting factual or autobiographical history as being ‘like a thriller.’ But at the risk of continuing this trend, both of these spy books are genuinely, at times compulsively, gripping. Denson’s is wilder, brasher, gutsier; Hoffman’s is more sober, more chilling, and brimming with cloak-and-dagger intrigue. Both are meticulously researched and replete with authentic and arcane tradecraft. And yet while Hoffman supplies the expected dead drops, brush passes, and false flags, Denson’s spy-speak teaches us a new language. Beholding access agents or plank holders dry cleaning, using accommodation addresses, or hanging out the shingle puts us in mind of Le Carré’s lamplighters and scalphunters coat trailing, raiding reptile funds, or plotting mailfist jobs.

“At the end of The Billion Dollar Spy, we are told that Tolkachev’s wife, Natasha, remained angry after her husband’s death about the fact that he carried on his spying despite assuring her he would stop. It wasn’t the ethics of espionage she objected to, rather the danger to the family. Jim Nicholson knew the risk involved with his treachery but then for some unfathomable reason went on to groom his son to fill his shoes. If we cut through the intricate webs of deceit and swaths of skullduggery, we find in both informative and captivating books two very different fathers—one reckless, one selfish—each attempting to do the right thing for those who mattered most. In shadowing them, Denson and Hoffman home in on what Graham Greene called ‘the human factor,’ tracking motivations, sifting loyalties, and assessing the damage a spy does not just to his country but also his family.”

Publishers Lunch ... 

Declared The Spy’s Son a “Notable New Release” for nonfiction in May 2015.

Bookish ...

listed The Spy’s Son as among it’s Top 10 nonfiction picks for Spring 2015.

The Moscow Times ...

listed The Spy’s Son as one of the Top 10 Summer Books for Russia Watchers. 

Departures gives a nod to The Spy’s Son in its July 2015 story, Refreeze: The Cold War in Contemporary Culture: 

As Putin reasserts Russian influence in Eastern Europe, a glut of new books, TV shows, and movies appears ready to satisfy a Western appetite for Cold War anxiety. Even as espionage is increasingly entrusted to algorithms, old-school spooks have not vanished from pop culture; they’ve crept in everywhere. Other books on the theme due out by summer include the memoir How to Catch a Russian Spy (Scribner), by Naveed Jamali, an American civilian who worked as a double agent (and learned his tradecraft from watching Bourne and Bond films), and The Spy’s Son (Atlantic Monthly Press), by the accomplished investigative reporter Bryan Denson. The latter book’s subtitle tips a pulpy hand: The True Story of the Highest-Ranking CIA Officer Ever Convicted of Espionage and the Son He Trained to Spy for Russia.

Portland Monthly declared: 

The Spy’s Son one of The 10 Portland Books You Must Read This Summer: “The true story of a CIA officer convicted of trading secrets with the Russians, and how he trained his son to follow in his footsteps. Oregonian reporter Denson’s tale is an exploration of family dynamics when the stakes are as high as treason. For fans of John le Carré.” Portland Monthly also declared The Spy's Son one of its 8 Books of the Year.

Library Journal...

writes this of The Spy’s Son: “A crack case officer for the CIA and a dedicated single father to boot, Jim Nicholson is also the highest-ranking CIA officer ever convicted of espionage (twice, as it happens). Initially convicted in 1997, he convinced his hero-worshipping son to smuggle messages to his Russian contacts and to collect money from them. Investigative reporter and Pulitzer Prize finalist Denson has some story to tell.”

James Belfield of writes:

“Bryan Denson's intimate portrait of Jim Nicholson – the highest-ranking CIA officer to be convicted of espionage – and his son Nathan, carefully weaves its way between the stranger-than-fiction spy story and the investigation of a relationship which led two men to betray their country. … On a global scale, the pair's actions caused major waves – but it's the minor ripples of the everyday life of spies which make Denson's investigative journalism so compelling.” 

Caroline Baum, writing in Booktopia: 

"Two generations of betrayal: a double whammy makes this an absolutely compelling true story of a father and son spying for Russia. Jim Nicholson was the highest ranking CIA officer ever convicted of espionage for being a double agent selling thousands of secrets to the Russians after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Unchastened by his conviction, and while still behind bars in a federal prison, he recruited his youngest son Nathan, an army veteran, to follow in his footsteps. Twelve years later, Nathan is arrested for the same crime. Based on interviews and letters, Bryan Denson pieces together a complex tale with strong echoes of TV dramas Homeland and The Americans played out against the backdrop of an America struggling to keep abreast of geopolitical change in the Middle East and traumatised by the intelligence failure of 9/11. "

Hayden Peake, in the Intelligence Officer's Bookshelf:  

"[The] Spy's Son illuminates a dark corner of espionage history: narrative journalism at its finest."

Czarna Owca's cover for Syn Szpiega, released 2015.

Czarna Owca's cover for Syn Szpiega, released 2015.