Cowboy Angels by Paul McAuley

Reviewed by Daniel Burton

If you aren’t paying attention, you might forget that Paul McAuley’s new novel, Cowboy Angels, is science fiction. Don’t get me wrong: there’s no doubt that it is science fiction. But McAuley has written a clever, quick, and fast moving novel that has all the elements of a great spy thriller, too. It’s a blend of genres that McAuley pulls off brilliantly, and it makes for an exciting and fast ride, a page turner perfect for a summer vacation or a rainy weekend indoors.

cowboy-angelsBefore I found science fiction as a teenager, I read cold war thrillers and spy novels. John le Carre, Tom Clancy, and Robert Ludlum were standard fare, my favorite scenes included dead drops, femme fatales, secret codes, and high speed car chases. There were few things I enjoyed more than watching a frantic Jason Bourne lethally and methodically evade assassins or Jack Ryan foil an international plot to destroy the President. I like my spies smart, decisive, and one step ahead of the chase.

Adam Stone, McAuley’s lead spy, is just that kind of spy. He lives in a parallel universe to our own, and he is one of the “cowboy angels” CIA officers that are sent to the Americas in parallel universes to help promote democracy and “the American way.” But now, Stone has retired, moved to an unpopulated version of the island Manhattan in one of the many parallel universes he has access to, and lives a rural life hunting prehistoric saber tooth tigers and giant sloths. He’s even fallen in love. Then, in a day, his past comes back to haunt him, suddenly he is on the run, hunting rogue agents, and being hunted by deadly assassins. It’s spy-versus-spy at its best. I loved it.

Nary a page passes without the action building, the plot twisting, and complications mounting. As another review put it, it’s helter-skelter, and our heroes have no chance to stop. The pages almost turn themselves. It’s great fiction, it’s exciting fiction, and I loved every moment of it.

About Daniel Burton
Dan Burton lives in Salt Lake City, Utah, where he practices law by day and practices everything else by night. You can follow him on his blog where he muses on the law, current events, books, and ideas. He can be contacted at

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