What: Meet author Bryan Denson When: Saturday 5-6:30 p.m. Where: Sunriver Books & Music, 57100 Beaver Drive, Suite 25-C, Sunriver Cost: Free (space is limited, registration requested) Contact: 541-593-2525 or sunriverbooks.com

When Bryan Denson went to the Mark O. Hatfield U.S. Courthouse in downtown Portland on a dreary January morning in 2009, he had no inkling that the story of a lifetime was about to fall into his lap.

“I got a call from a source at the federal courthouse who told me there would be something extraordinary happening that I should come see,” Denson recalled. This would mark the start of a six-year journey that led to the publication of his first book, “The Spy’s Son.”

At the time, the veteran journalist was covering federal courts and national security issues for The Oregonian newspaper. After meeting with his contact, he learned that convicted CIA turncoat Harold James “Jim” Nicholson was about to be charged with further acts of espionage against the U.S., along with his then-26-year-old son, Nathan.

Jim had been a rising star at the CIA in the 1980s and ’90s. However, his ego, along with personal and financial problems, led him to betray his country, turning over troves of classified documents to Russian agents and blowing the cover of many U.S. operatives in the mid ’90s. After a cat-and-mouse investigation involving both the CIA and FBI, Jim was arrested in 1996 and became the highest-ranking CIA officer convicted of espionage. In 1997 he was sentenced to serve 23 years.

That should have been the end of the sordid saga. However, from behind bars at the federal prison in Sheridan, Jim managed to manipulate his youngest son Nathan into acting as a go-between with the Russians and three other foreign nations. This enabled the elder Nicholson to continue his espionage and collect payments for previous betrayals.

In the course of reporting on the ensuing trials, Denson realized he wanted to write a book about the cases where he could explore their twists and turns, the personalities of the key players and the underlying personal and family issues in much more detail.

In a somewhat unusual timeline, Denson’s newspaper articles attracted the attention of Paramount Pictures, who optioned film rights to his coverage of the story well before he even had a book deal.

The high-profile nature of the story and the potential for a related big-budget movie helped Denson secure a literary agent, and he experienced every author’s dream when his book outline became the subject of a bidding war. He received offers from four publishing houses, ultimately signing with Grove Atlantic Inc.

Still, Denson had several more years of research and writing ahead of him before his manuscript was finished. The hardcover version of “The Spy’s Son” was released in May 2015 and the paperback in May this year.

From brush passes of information within the halls of CIA headquarters in Virginia to clandestine meetings at a TGI Friday’s restaurant in Cyprus, the gripping story reads more like the spy fiction of Robert Ludlum or John le Carré than a true story.

“From the very beginning, I wanted to write a book that read like a novel,” said Denson, 59.

One scene in which Nathan (who lived in Eugene) is trailed by FBI agents takes place on the now-defunct Crooked River Dinner Train.

“There were a million challenges in researching the book,” Denson said. “I didn’t know the first thing about the CIA and how it worked.”

However, he was mentored by former CIA officer Brian Kelley who reached out to Denson and helped with everything from ensuring he used the right terminology when describing CIA operations to introducing him to many other intelligence experts.

“I also discovered wiretap transcripts are a gold mine when it comes to creating dialogue,” Denson said, laughing.

He found it liberating to be able to write the book in his own voice, which differed from most of his previous journalistic work.

“Writing this book was a life-changing experience,” said Denson. “Writing long-form like that and the long hours it takes really changed me.”

At his presentation at Sunriver Books & Music Saturday, Denson will read and discuss portions of some of his favorite sections from “The Spy’s Son” to introduce the main characters. And, he says, the question and answer portion of his events is always interesting.

Denson is working as a freelance journalist and media consultant and researching his next nonfiction book. However, he says, he might venture into writing fiction down the road.

“I want the third paragraph of my obituary to read, ‘He was hard at work on his seventh novel,’ ” joked Denson.

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