Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is a book that everyone should read. It’s not a perfect masterpiece of fiction, but boy is it good. If you saw the movie, directed by Thomas Alfredson you might be surprised by how the book differs (and yet not) from the plot of the movie. This is a good reason to read the book too.
John le Carré took a very long time to write Tinker, Tailor. The edition I read, had a very interesting forward by le Carré from 1991, in which he explains how his original draft for the novel revolved around Jim Prideaux, but he couldn’t make the story work from an internal point of view. The character of George Smiley didn’t exist in the first drafts, but his addition—as an outsider to the Circus (a thinly disguised MI-6) during the timeline of the story—solved myriad problems and propels the story into being one of the greatest spy novels of all time.
Mrs Smith Reads Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le Carré
This is a well-plotted Silva thriller, in which the bad guys this time is the corrupt new Russia under a beast of a president who remains nameless but is clearly meant to be Putin. Oh, and the pathetic world of dirty British politics (and morals) is on full display here too, a target which I found I enjoyed rather more than Silva’s tedious black-hatting of the Arabs in most of his novels.
Beautiful young English girl Madeline Hart is kidnapped during a vacation in colorful Corsica at a moment when she is rising to the top of her political career. Despite intensive searches, not a clue is found and after months, her disappearance begins to fade from the media. And that’s when a ransom note arrives for the British Prime Minister, giving him 7 days to pay a ransom for her or else. Turns out Madeline has been in a clandestine love affair with the married PM, and retired Israeli spy and master assassin Gabriel Allon is called upon by an old friend and British spymaster to do his magic and find and get her back. Allon ends up in an unusual alliance with the assassin who spared his and his wife’s lives in a previous Silva novel, and the two back each other up in unraveling the story of who is behind the kidnapping. Of course, Allon’s Mossad team is fully deployed as well, always a welcome addition to the plot. And finally, Silva adds just a touch of mysticism to ratchet up the tension.
There’s a lot of psychological manipulation on all sides going on, which gives lots of added nuance to Silva’s always masterful political thrillers, and a couple of major plot twists which had me gasping in disbelief. For fear of giving away too much, I’ll just say that Allon appears more vulnerable in this novel than in others I’ve read, which makes him an even more appealing protagonist. Silva’s politics are getting more interesting as well, and with Allon “back in the saddle” by the end, I think we can all safely anticipate more good reading to come. Hi ho Silva! (sorry about that! Couldn’t resist!)
Rating: 3.5 stars
When Susannah Makepeace’s kind, but distant father dies, leaving behind him nothing but debt, Susannah’s engagement to a young gentleman is broken, and she has to move in with a distant cousin in the little village of Barnstable. She’s barely arrived before she runs into the notorious Viscount Whitelaw, diving naked into a pond mere feet away from where she is sketching.
Kit Whitelaw is a spy, but his somewhat scandalous personal life of late has forced his father to present him with a choice. Spend a month on the family’s country estate putting together a natural science folio, with sketches of flora and fauna, or find himself on the next ship to Egypt. Kit would much rather figure out why his friend James Makepeace died under mysterious circumstances, so it’s a happy coincidence, when he realizes that Makepeace’s daughter is in Barnstable. The girl keeps having near fatal accidents, and it’s clear that someone wants her out of the way. But why?
Full review on my blog.
For these and other thoughts about how mash-ups are taking over our society, visit my external page here
Leafing through the first pages of The Rook it’s astonishing how many reviews describe it as a “mix of _______ and ______”. Downton Abby and Harry Potter, The Office and Doctor Who, Ghostbusters and Niel Gaiman: it’s a positive bouillabaisse of all things Nerdily British or Britishly Nerdy. And though I wanted to avoid that trap, as I read one thought popped up in my mind again and again: “It’s as if the X-Men ran a government agency entirely devoted to X-Files.”
That mash-up covers the central conceit of the book, but misses the core of Daniel O’Malley’s debut novel (in part because he’s actually Australian and not British [though the book is set there] or American [though he did attend school here]). The core of The Rook is about finding out who you are by coping with the absurdity of adulthood. And, not coincidentally, he gives us a main character who has lost her memory just before we cracked the cover. As our heroine gradually learns her own name (Myfawny Alice Thomas), her job (administering a squad of supernatural troubleshooters within the British isles) and her own special gifts (manipulating other people’s biological process to her will), we learn them too. And when foreign cadre of supernatural Belgians threaten to bring down her office from within, we as readers bounce along on the trail of clues, looking for answers and thrilling at the intrigue of “Her Majesty’s Supernatural Secret Service”.
As a writer O’Malley’s wit crackles along the page, littering the plots’ surreal situations with knowing winks and quirky one-liners. Even if you normally eschew sci-fi silliness, or espionage-laden intrigue, if you appreciate clearly written, clever characters, you’ll find something to admire in The Rook. The mash-up of all our nerdy pet-passions creates both a wonderfully unique hybrid and a delicious stew with a little something to satisfy everyone.
I was going for an espionage theme at the beginning of this month, which has currently been derailed, but it was an opportunity to finally lash into this corker of a novel. After seeing Copenhagen in my feckless youth and being dazzled by it, I’ve admired and fancied Frayn for his wordcraft, smarts, and great sense of humour. I must’ve owned at least two copies of this in the last ten years. But I was apprehensive of it – something sinister lay behind that hedge on the front cover, and perhaps I wasn’t smart enough to appreciate it? It was released in 2002, when I was still trying to get a handle on the confusing world of ‘grown up’ fiction. Ten (!) years later I took it on a weekend holiday away, to see if we could get in a dirty fling overseas.
I bloody loved it. It’s a book about childhood that nails so much that’s right about the state of being young, and those half-true stories that seem to be everywhere, in the very air, and the powers of imagination. It also captures that cruelty of children, chillingly. One moment had me gasp out loud, then put the book down to recover.
One of the review quotes in the front compares it positively with The Go-Between, which is my pick for the most perfectly realised novel ever, and I’d co-sign that. They both cover some similar ground – the lurch from child to adult, secrets half-revealed, the black holes of our memories. A wonderful, potent story.
Nathaniel Stokes became the Earl of Westfall when his cousin fell out of a boat in the Lake District and drowned. Before he was an earl, he was plain Nate Stokes, one of Wellington’s most trusted spies, and he still can’t seem to settle down and be a staid aristocrat. So no one will look to closely at him, or ponder why he was absent for so much of the war on the Peninsula, he cultivates a clumsy and bookish persona, wears fake spectacles and walks with a limp. He likes finding lost and stolen trinkets and artworks for his fellow peers, and is intrigued when the Marquis of Ebberling comes to him to find a governess that fled his home three years ago, who stole from him, and may have killed his wife. He’s offering an obscene amount of money to get the job done quickly, and Nate likes the challenge of finding someone who disappeared without a trace so long ago.
Emily Portsman, as the girl is now known, found refuge at the scandalous Tantalus Club, a gambling establishment staffed entirely by well-born and educated young ladies, run by Lady Haybury, the heroine of A Beginner’s Guide to Rakes (and the first book in this series). She’s not left the club for three years, for fear of Ebberling finding her. Twice a week, she has to dye her hair brown, and while she invites the occasional gentleman up to her rooms, she tries to stay unnoticed as much as possible. So when she overhears Nate at lunch, talking to his younger brother about locating a thief among the staff at the club, all her paranoia returns in full. Believing him to be a befuddled scholar, she invites him to her room to seduce his mission out of him, not realizing that she’s playing straight into Nate’s hands. As the two become closer, Nate becomes more and more convinced that Ebberling left several key points out of his tale, and that Emily is not the ruthless murderer he’s been sent to find, at all. But how can they prove her innocence, against the word of a rich and powerful peer of the realm?
The rest of my review, and a shout-out to Mrs. Julien, can be found on my blog.