Author Robert Lindsey reviews "American Sons: The Untold Story of the Falcon and the Snowman&qu
Written by Robert Lindsey
Christopher Boyce is probably the most likable, most interesting and smartest former spy you’re ever likely to meet. I discovered this more than 30 years ago when I wrote The Falcon and the Snowman.
I was reminded of it again by American Sons: The Untold Story of the Falcon and the Snowman, an autobiographical retelling of his life as a prisoner and fugitive who outsmarted federal agents for many months as they searched for him virtually around the world. The book (co-written with his wife, Cait, and Vince Font, a freelance writer) is one I never thought would be written.
It’s at once a beautifully written thriller, an endearing love story, a compelling narrative of survival and redemption and a horrific indictment of a prison system that dispatched a model prisoner at the prime of his life to a decade of haunting solitary confinement mostly because he had embarrassed the system, first by escaping from a maximum security Federal penitentiary, then, as an eloquent writer, publishing articles exposing to the outside world the often brutal and dehumanizing conditions of prison life. His descriptions of the brutality, knifings, murders, and beatings in prison will make you cry out for reform.
There’s little debate that Chris initially belonged in prison. At the age of 21, while working for a U.S. defense contractor, he had collaborated with a friend, Daulton Lee, to sell classified documents to Soviet agents in Mexico, largely, he said, because he’d discovered he was unwittingly part of a secret plan to misinform a U.S. ally, Australia, about intelligence matters, which he thought of as a betrayal of American values.
He was disenchanted—like many young Americans—with his government following the revelations of Watergate and official lies told during the Vietnam War. He briefly considered taking his information to a reporter, but instead, in a catastrophic, impulsive choice, Chris, who had a history of risk-taking, sent Lee to the Soviet Embassy in Mexico with the first of what would become an avalanche of secret documents.
Caught in 1977, Chris was sentenced to 40 years in prison for espionage. That’s when I met him and gathered the material that would become The Falcon and the Snowman.
A few weeks after the book was published and Hollywood was preparing to make the film version, he escaped from the Lompoc Federal prison and disappeared for almost two years before being rearrested. It was then I wrote a sequel to the original book called The Flight of the Falcon.
I thought I’d pretty much told the story of his daring escape and manhunt in this book, but when I read American Sons I realized how wrong I was.
The book is full of new details about his adventures and misadventures, probing personal revelations, and twists and turns that keep you flipping pages as fast as you can. You feel the tension when Chris, guarded by a dozen federal agents, testifies before Congress about the porous security arrangements at his employer, probably ultimately helping his eventual release, and you cheer a little when the hard-nosed federal judge who presided at his trial is persuaded by Chris’s wife to write a letter endorsing an early release.
I was skeptical about three people writing a book together—good books are seldom written by a committee—but the three of them somehow pulled it off, seamlessly moving the story forward at a hectic pace.
There are two protagonists in this story: Chris himself—and Cait, the stand-out hero, a California surfer girl turned paralegal who waged a brilliant, sustained, years’ long legal campaign to free first Daulton Lee, then Chris, while fighting off recurrent bouts of breast cancer.
Along the way, Chris fell in love with her. Shortly after Chris was finally released after 25 years in prison, they were married.
I can’t wait to see the movie.
Robert Lindsey is the author of The Falcon and the Snowman (1980) and its follow-up, The Flight of the Falcon (1983). His other works include Brando: Songs My Mother Taught Me and An American Life: Ronald Reagan. A veteran journalist, Mr. Lindsey was a reporter for the San Jose Mercury News and served as the Los Angeles bureau chief for the New York Times. His most recent book, Ghost Scribbler, an autobiography of his life and career, was published in 2012.