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Published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on July 5, 2000. All rights reserved.
From the Ashes, a Debut Novel
Katarina Heinrich — a beautiful Nazi spy stationed
in America during World War II — will slit a throat as readily
as hop a train. At the beginning of "A Gathering of Spies,"
she knifes another woman to assume her identity and take a job in
Princeton to housekeep for — and soon marry — a nuclear scientist.
John Altman, the Princeton-raised author and Harvard graduate signs
copies of his debut thriller at Micawber Books on Sunday, July 9,
at 3 p.m. Hailed by Stephen Coontz as "a sizzling zinger of a
classic spy story," author Jack Higgins has already dubbed the
30-year-old author "a major new talent on the scene."
Altman describes "A Gathering of Spies" (G.P. Putnam’s Sons,
$24.95) as an old-fashioned "classic" spy thriller. When his
chameleon character, Katarina, stumbles onto the secret of Los Alamos,
she finds herself presented with a nearly impossible task: to return
her intelligence to Berlin despite the combined force of American
and British security agencies. Fortunately for the Nazis, she has
been superbly trained as part of an elite cadre of talented, ruthless
spies sanctioned by Himmler himself. She can kill with any weapon,
improvise her way out of any situation, and manipulate any man to
do her bidding.
The man who holds the key to Katarina’s fate is Professor Harris Winterbotham,
a double agent whose wife is a prisoner in Dachau. The Nazis say they
are willing to trade her in return for his betrayal of England. But
which is truly more important to him — winning the war or saving
his wife? By the book’s end, a half-dozen intertwined stories have
collided in unexpected ways, resulting in a classic adventure.
Born in White Plains, New York, Altman spent the first 10 years of
his life moving between New York, Colorado, Lawrenceville, before
the family settled in Princeton, where his parents still live. In
1988, he went to Harvard College, where he designed his own major,
"Development and Construction of the Novel," a major that
required him to write one novel per year for his three final years.
After graduation, Altman returned briefly to his parents’ house in
Princeton. A week after arriving, he accidentally started a fire with
a cigarette. The house burned almost to the ground. Nobody was hurt,
though the graduate lost his three novels.
Rather than quit smoking, he embarked on an extended road trip. After
six months, he returned to New Jersey and taught creative writing
to inner-city kids at an educational camp, while continuing to apologize
to his parents, who — it turns out — were "remarkably
forgiving." (So forgiving that he could be found this summer house-sitting
for those same parents.)
Altman next moved to New York City, where his first job was a three-year
stint writing about CD-ROMs for an industry newsletter, "Indelible
News." He then embarked on a freelance career, writing about computer
games for magazines such as Time Out New York and Computer Games magazine.
During these years, he also played bass for the rock/funk band Furiously
Stiff, which, from 1993 to 1998, performed frequently around the city
in such dives as CBGB and Pyramid. Since 1998, he has played occasional
guitar, bass, and keyboards for bands including Cathouse and Your
Mother And I Have Grown Apart.
Altman is not the only member of his family who writes.
Cousins on his mother’s side include Karen Bender, whose first novel,
"Like Normal People," is just out from Houghton Mifflin; her
husband, Robert Anthony Siegel, whose first novel, "All the Money
in the World," came out from Random House in 1997; and Karen’s
sister, Aimee Bender, whose collection of short stories, "The
Girl in the Flammable Skirt," came out from Doubleday in 1998,
and whose first novel is forthcoming. John’s uncle is Jeff Rotman,
a renowned underwater photographer and author of six books, whose
work has been featured in Life, Newsweek, Time, The New York Times
Magazine, National Geographic, and many others.
Altman still lives in Manhattan with his girlfriend, Anicee Gaddis,
a freelance writer who covers music for the New York Times website,
HX magazine, and others. Altman is already at work on the sequel to
"A Gathering of Spies." Yet with accolades raining down and
rumors of a movie sale in the offing, he could find he’s his own hardest
act to follow.
609-921-8454. The author signs copies of "A Gathering of Spies."
Free. Sunday, July 9, 3 p.m.
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