Last Book Read...



  • Lazenby880Lazenby880 LondonPosts: 525MI6 Agent
    After the enjoyable yet rather herbivore Passport to Oblivion, I re-read Donald Hamilton's The Wrecking Crew in the search of some red meat. And red meat I found.

    The first time I read this novel I did so in a bit of a rush. I found it immensely enjoyable, although not quite as frenetic, tense or poignant as Death of a Citizen. This says more about Death of a Citizen than it does about The Wrecking Crew. The former was a truly distinguished piece of thriller writing, infinitely above the common dismissal of it as a Yank Bond knock-off (which it definitely isn't). The conclusion of Death of a Citizen is so deep, shocking and, dare I say it, moving that what followed it was unlikely to match its brilliance.

    On re-reading The Wrecking Crew, it is clear to me that there are bits that I missed which ensure that the novel cannot be described as a 'mere' thriller (at this point I should point out that I rather enjoy 'mere' thrillers, at least most of those published in the 1930s-1970s, and that I find them far better than the critics of the time). It is certainly tense and gripping; although I cannot say too much about the plot without giving the whole game away it twists and turns with plenty of excitement along the way. The Swedish locale is particularly well drawn, as one might expect from a writer with Hamilton's background (then again, having never been to Sweden I have no idea how accurate the depiction actually is). Moreover, the characters all come alive: duplicitous with their own agendas, with an 'is-she-isn't-she' double agent angle with all the female characters. As in the first Helm novel, Hamilton handles characterisation with ease and all feel real and authentic albeit in un-real and inauthentic situations.

    I would like to flag up a couple specific aspects I think worthy of note. The first is Hamilton's almost intellectual point about the moral distinction between warfare, and indiscriminate bombing, which is generally regarded as heroic, and assassination, which is generally regarded as repugnant. Helm, in his inner monologue shared with the reader, puts it well: 'Beth's [his wife, who has left him as a result of the events in the previous book] attitude still had the power to annoy me a little, because I was quite sure she'd never have dreamed of breaking up our home if she'd discovered, say, that I was the bombardier who'd pushed the button over Hiroshima. I must say that I don't get it. Why honor [sic] and respect a guy who drops a great indiscriminate bomb, and recoil in horror from a guy who shoots a small, selective bullet'. It is a challenging point well made.

    The other point is the almost feminist note struck by Hamilton, casually ignored by those who condemn his novels as masculine and sexist. It might be a bit of a backhander, but near the end of the novel Helm narrates, 'A beautiful girl has no business performing acts of strenght and courage; our civilization isn't geared for it. Wome aren't supposed to do anything that'll muss their hair or endanger their nylons; and wading through knee-deep mud isn't exactly a glamorous occupation. Just the same, the kid had guts. I really didn't like the looks of that stuff at all'. In fact, all the female characters Hamilton draws are very strong indeed.

    There are lots of other things I could, and probably should, point to although I do not have the time for a proper review. What this book confirmed for me is that Hamilton represented all that was best in American thriller writing. Economical, daring and taut, Hamilton gets straight to the point while never rushing a scene. I was gripped throughout, which is more than I can say for some other spy novelists of the 1960s. In The Wrecking Crew Hamilton furhter fleshed out the incredible character he introduced in Death of a Citizen. I like the cut of his jib.
  • LoeffelholzLoeffelholz The United States, With LovePosts: 8,932Quartermasters
    edited May 2008
    Lazenby880 wrote:
    ...I re-read Donald Hamilton's The Wrecking Crew in the search of some red meat. And red meat I found.

    Very nice write-up on The Wrecking Crew, L880 {[] Donald Hamilton is another of my favourite American fictioneers---I'd like to have sat at the bar and eavesdropped on a conversation (over drinks) between him and John D. MacDonald B-)

    I'd dearly love to see Death Of A Citizen made into a proper film...and I'd love even more to get paid to produce that first draft! :) Not that those Dean Martin films aren't a bit of a guilty pleasure...but what cinema did to Matt Helm is ten times worse than anything the least of the Bond films wreaked upon Fleming's man!
    Check out my Amazon author page! Mark Loeffelholz
    "I am not an entrant in the Shakespeare Stakes." - Ian Fleming
    "Screw 'em." - Daniel Craig, The Best James Bond EverTM
  • darenhatdarenhat The Old PuebloPosts: 2,029Quartermasters
    edited May 2008
    Donald Hamilton is another of my favourite American fictioneers---I'd like to have sat at the bar and eavesdropped on a conversation (over drinks) between him and John D. MacDonald

    Sounds like the words of dear co-worker and friend of mine who sadly passed away a few years back. He was an avid fan of John D. MacDonald's Travis MacGee novels as well as Hamilton's Matt Helm novels. He always encouraged me to read them but I never did. I now regret it since I'm sure we could have spent hours discussing them.

    I did read John D. MacDonald's The Girl, The Goldwatch, and Everything, which I enjoyed a great deal. I also picked up Death of A Citizen and some other Matt Helm novel years ago (I want to say The Punisher but my imagination might be making that up) but never got around to reading them. Thanks to L880 for bringing the books back to remembrance.
  • LoeffelholzLoeffelholz The United States, With LovePosts: 8,932Quartermasters
    edited May 2008
    darenhat wrote:
    ...He was an avid fan of John D. MacDonald's Travis MacGee novels as well as Hamilton's Matt Helm novels. He always encouraged me to read them but I never did....I also picked up Death of A Citizen and some other Matt Helm novel years ago (I want to say The Punisher but my imagination might be making that up) but never got around to reading them.

    I hope you do read them eventually. Travis McGee and Matt Helm are two very compelling fellows... B-)
    Check out my Amazon author page! Mark Loeffelholz
    "I am not an entrant in the Shakespeare Stakes." - Ian Fleming
    "Screw 'em." - Daniel Craig, The Best James Bond EverTM
  • LoeffelholzLoeffelholz The United States, With LovePosts: 8,932Quartermasters
    "SilverFin," by Charlie Higson

    Read this one on the planes out to LA and back this past week; my first exposure to Young Bond. Quite enjoyable, really---a logical IFP counterpunch to the Harry Potter craze, with the Bond literary formula nicely adhered-to, with all of the nods to the original novels one might expect.

    Very satisfying. I'll eventually read all five.
    Check out my Amazon author page! Mark Loeffelholz
    "I am not an entrant in the Shakespeare Stakes." - Ian Fleming
    "Screw 'em." - Daniel Craig, The Best James Bond EverTM
  • youknowmynameyouknowmyname Gainesville, FL, USAPosts: 703MI6 Agent
    I've got to read the Young Bond novels sometime, really.

    I just got done reading two books:

    Maori Myth and Legendary Tales


    The No-Nonsense Guide to Fairtrade.

    Both good reads. MMALT was a slow read. I took individual myths and legends at a time. It was fascinating to see the connections between Maori myth and legend and myths and legends of other people groups (esp. Native North Americans, the Shona people of Africa, the Inca/Mayan people, Hindus etc.). my favorite myth had to be either the creation myth or the stories of Maui...both very interesting. also, the mountain myths will stick with as well as the myths of reinga.

    NNGTFT was a read I did preparing for a Fairtrade coffee event I hosted for OXFAM. A good enough read on Fairtrade, but sometimes a little too emotionally charged. It reminded me of the End of Poverty by Sachs. It starts out good with some great facts and solid arguments, but then it turns into an emotional plea and propaganda piece used to turn me into a guilt ridden or blood boiling activist. I would not recommend this book as an introduction to fair trade, although i would recommend some of its chapters (specifically the banana chapter and the coffee chapter). the Fair Trade Fight might be a better choice for an introduction to this movement.
    "We have all the time in the world..."
  • Barry NelsonBarry Nelson ChicagoPosts: 1,508MI6 Agent
    Nothing Like It In The World - Stephen Ambrose

    A very interesting read detailing the building of the first railroad to cross the United States. Ambrose, a well known hisorical writer does a great job of detailing the stories of the men who managed to complete this engineering marvel and the courageous effort it took.

    A few interesting facts I picked up, Abraham Lincoln was a renowned railroad lawyer and pushed for the building of the rairoad while President, even while the civil war was going on. The railroad would not have been built without the efforts of the Chinese laborers who immigrated to California. They were initially met with prejudice and contempt, but once they showed their work ethic were accepted. More blasting powder was used building the railroad than was used in the civil war. A days work earned you $3.00.

    An excellent read and fascinating look back at history.
  • darenhatdarenhat The Old PuebloPosts: 2,029Quartermasters
    edited June 2008
    Temple by Matthew Reilly

    If you're looking for an action-packed story, then this qualifies. Other than that, this novel has nothing great to offer. The story involves a modern day military quest into the South American jungle to recover a lost idol that has superweapon potential. The book is full of plotholes and zero character development. Often times the novel is interspersed with the translation of a sixteenth century manuscript written by a Spanish monk recounting events regarding the lost idol. The most laughable part is that this sixteenth century monk happens to write just like Michael Crichton. The action itself is pretty ludicrous, but that's okay.

    The author's voice is particularly annoying since he feels the need to italicize virtually every other line in the book to emphasise that fact that what you are reading is supposed to be really exciting! In my opinion, italics should be used for translations and for internal monologue, and that's about it.

    I can't honestly recommend the book, but it might be somone else's cup of tea.
  • PendragonPendragon ColoradoPosts: 2,640MI6 Agent
    edited June 2008
    re-reading "Layer Cake" by J.J. Connolly

    absolutly brilliant read. Loved the movie, so I went out and bought the book! :D

    Also, I've been re-reading my Archeology text book lately, only because it's way interesting and I have no intention of forgetting any of the information I learned last term...

    ~Pen -{
    Hey! Observer! You trying to get yourself Killed?
  • Andy A 007Andy A 007 Posts: 200MI6 Agent
    Screw-Jack by Hunter S. Thompson

    A MUST for any fan of Hunter Thompson! Definately the most bizarre of anything I've read of his. All three stories in the book, Mescalito, Death of a Poet, and Screw-Jack, are classic works of Gonzo. I kinda freaked myself out when I found myself identifying with Raoul Duke in Screw-Jack concerning my own love life (And for anyone whose read the book, no I'm not in love with a cat. I'm in love with a human woman haha). Anyway, as i said, if you're a Hunter Thompson fan, pick up Screw-Jack ASAP!
  • JamesbondjrJamesbondjr Posts: 462MI6 Agent
    Into The Wild by John Krakauer

    Fascinating true life story of Chris McCandless who dropped his life to trek round America and eventually try to survive of the land in Alaska.

    I read this after watching the superb film adaptation. The book is a little hard going in places I found. The author has a good go of trying to get into McCandless' head and examine his reasons for just disappearing the way he did. I agree with what Krakauer says on the whole, although the only person who will ever know the complete truth is Chris McCandless. I found the parts detailing McCandless' journey the most interesting as I am an avid trekker myself.

    In all honesty I found the film more relatable, but it's an interesting read.
    1- On Her Majesty's Secret Service 2- Casino Royale 3- Licence To Kill 4- Goldeneye 5- From Russia With Love
  • FelixLeiter ♀FelixLeiter ♀ Staffordshire or a pubPosts: 1,286MI6 Agent
    Scorpia by Anthony Horowitz

    Have read it before several times but decided to re-read that and soon will do the same for Ark Angel so I can read the latest Alex Rider. It has been taking me a while as I don't seem to find much time to read anymore, but have now decided to try to find the time in my busy schedule. :)
    Relax darling, I'm on top of the situation -{
  • darenhatdarenhat The Old PuebloPosts: 2,029Quartermasters
    The Italian Secretary by Caleb Carr

    This was a relatively mediocre entry in the world of Sherlockiana. Caleb Carr had burst on the scene with the acclaimed Victorian bestseller 'The Alienist' (which I never read). This novel, however, has not garnered the same level of praise...and rightly so. Other than Carr's ability to draft florid nineteenth century prose, I don't know of any other qualification he posesses to write a Sherlock Holmes mystery. The story is told very lazily, with Holmes actually doing no real deducting at all, but rather showing up on the scene and explaining what's going on, while Watson waxes eloquent in mid-sentence about anything that seems to cross his mind. Carr makes the blunder of trying to shroud the story in mystery by adding completely unrelated elements, whereas Conan Doyle expertly crafts a mystery by connecting seemingly unrelated matters into a sensible yet imaginative story.
  • HardyboyHardyboy Posts: 5,838Chief of Staff
    I can believe it, DH. . .I read The Alienist when it came out, and I thought it was poorly-written drivel. It's the kind of historical novel where characters all but say, "Wow, it's interesting to live in the nineteenth century with all our quaint technology and ideas!" It was enough to make me conclude I have no room on my bookshelf for anything by Caleb Carr.
    Vox clamantis in deserto
  • John DrakeJohn Drake On assignmentPosts: 2,564MI6 Agent
    I don't normally read fiction, but I gave a couple of well-reviewed novels a go.

    The Interpretation of Murder by Jed Rubenfeld

    Sigmund Freud and his sidekick Carl Jung investigate a series of murders in New York. I was hoping this would be be so much more, but it's a fairly generic period crime novel with Freud and Jung in it.

    The True History of the Kelly Gang
    by Peter Carey

    This won the Booker prize. I'm not sure why. It's written in mock Irish-dialect that sounds as authentic as Darby O' Gill and the Little People. I'm beginning to think that Philip Larkin was absolutely right and books really are a load of crap. There must be some good novels out there. Anyone know what they might be?
  • HardyboyHardyboy Posts: 5,838Chief of Staff
    John Drake wrote:
    There must be some good novels out there. Anyone know what they might be?

    Oh, JD, I could go on and on. . . But seeing your interest in graphic novels, sci-fi fantasy, and movies based on comic books, have you read Michael Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay? It's somewhat inspired by the careers of Siegel and Schuster and makes some interesting connections between modern American comic books and Jewish folk tales, and it's quite a good read. Maybe that would be to your taste?
    Vox clamantis in deserto
  • Dan SameDan Same Victoria, AustraliaPosts: 6,057MI6 Agent
    John Drake wrote:
    There must be some good novels out there. Anyone know what they might be?
    There are tons of good novels. :D I think that Stephen King is always a good bet, but really, if you're prepared to takes a few hits along the way, then it shouldn't be all that difficult to find a good novel (even if it was written a while ago. ;) )
    "He’s a man way out there in the blue, riding on a smile and a shoeshine. And when they start not smiling back—that’s an earthquake. and then you get yourself a couple of spots on your hat, and you’re finished. Nobody dast blame this man. A salesman is got to dream, boy. It comes with the territory." Death of a Salesman
  • TonyDPTonyDP Inside the MonolithPosts: 4,194MI6 Agent
    edited July 2008
    This isn't so much a "last book read" post but rather a "next book to be read" post. There are a few fans of Arthur C. Clarke on this site and they might find this bit of news interesting.

    While skimming CNN's website today, I came across an article on Mr. Clarke. It turns out the old master had one last story left to tell: The Last Theorem. He started work on it in 2002 and it was originally supposed to be his final solo project. Due due to his declining health, he needed to find a collaborator and turned to another legendary hard sci-fi author: Frederik Pohl. Pohl is himself an acknowledged grandmaster of the genre; and at the age of 89 faced more than his fair share of physical challenges in finishing the book. He finished the manuscript for Clarke to read only a few days before the latter author's death.

    As for the novel, it will tell the story about an obscure mathematical theorem which has massive ramifications for the human race. The book comes out next week (August 5) and I really can't wait to see the product of these two incredible minds.

    Here's the link to the CNN article; it's quite a moving little story on two great authors who created so many memorable tales during sci-fi literature's "golden age".
  • LoeffelholzLoeffelholz The United States, With LovePosts: 8,932Quartermasters
    edited August 2008
    John Drake wrote:
    There must be some good novels out there. Anyone know what they might be?

    Yes indeed, John. If you're a fan of genre fiction---detective/mystery specifically---I would direct you to the Travis McGee novels...which brings me to the book I just finished last night (staying up way too late! :# :D ):

    A Purple Place For Dying, by John D. MacDonald

    Travis McGee is a beach bum who lives on a houseboat in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, and only takes on jobs when he is nearly broke. He considers himself something of a salvage expert---if you've lost something (or had it stolen, etc.), he'll get it back for you...on the condition that he gets to keep 50% of the total amount as a fee :v The novels are hopelessly addictive. MacDonald wrote 21 Travis McGee novels, starting in 1962, before his untimely death in 1986, and they stand up extremely well for the present-day reader. The plotting, dialogue and characterization are top-notch, the first-person perspective infused with brilliant and often very funny social commentary.

    All of the titles have a colour in them---don't know whether MacDonald did that himself, or if it was the publisher's idea. Purple is the third book in the series...the books might actually seem to get better with each volume (either that or my affection for them simply deepens, or both). He actually reminds me a bit of Fleming---not in terms of style, but simply in that whatever few plot holes/contrivances/conveniences exist in these books, they're just so craftily written that you enjoy every second of the ride...a worthy lesson for writers everywhere...

    I've now read the first three:

    The Deep Blue Good-By
    Nightmare In Pink
    A Purple Place For Dying

    I own two more---The Quick Brown Fox and A Deadly Shade Of Gold---I'm buying and reading them in order, and I can't wait B-)

    Bought them online, used, for $1 apiece. I can't recommend them highly enough.
    Check out my Amazon author page! Mark Loeffelholz
    "I am not an entrant in the Shakespeare Stakes." - Ian Fleming
    "Screw 'em." - Daniel Craig, The Best James Bond EverTM
  • asioasio Melbourne, AustraliaPosts: 546MI6 Agent
    edited August 2008
    OHMSS by Ian Fleming.
    Re-reading it, actually.
    After just finishing "Devil May Care", I needed a dose of the real thing. Not to say that DMC is without merit, I just think Penguin Books should've listed it as "by Sebastian Faulks" rather then "by Sebastian Faulks as Ian Fleming".
    Drawn Out Dad.
    Independent, one-shot comic books from the outskirts of Melbourne, Australia.
  • Lazenby880Lazenby880 LondonPosts: 525MI6 Agent
    edited August 2008
    The Railway Man, by Eric Lomax.

    This is a sort of memoir about a young Edinburgh man who had long had a fascination with railways who gets caught up in the Second World War. He ends up being sent to the Far East, eventually to Singapore, where he (along with the others) is captured by the Japanese. What follows is truly horrific, as Lomax details his life in Japanee captivity, from the work on the dreadful Burma-Siam railroad to vividly described epsiodes of the most awful torture after a self-made radio and map is discovered.

    Lomax really does bring his experiences to life and they do often make for very difficult reading. It is also a brutally honest book: Lomax does not seek to deny his hatred for individual Japanese people involved in his captivity (particularly one Japanese interpreter who is present at many of his interrogations). Through a string of coincidences (which, if this were a fictional book, would almost be too hard to believe - a fine demonstration that sometimes truth really is stranger than fiction) Lomax finds himself in contact with one of his tormenters, decades after the war. It was fascinating to find out whether hatred would die with time.

    This is an extraordinary and moving tale. Lomax emerges as an incredible individual, the stories of how he coped in captivity showing some of the remarkable sides of humanity. He also details the psychological effects of the torture very well, and it is difficult to understand the seeming indifference of some Brits to the suffering of these men. The book has a very satisfying conclusion, and I have found myself mulling over it since I finished the novel.

    The Railway Man is absolutely worth reading, and only £5.99 on Amazon.
  • LexiLexi LondonPosts: 3,000MI6 Agent
    I've just finished Richard Hammond's autobiography 'On the Edge.' For those of you in the States and other far corners of the world, Richard is a very well liked presenter of BBC shows, one which he is most famous for is a car show called Top Gear.

    On one of the programmes, they decided to feature a piece on him, driving a jet car which could reach speeds beyond 330mph. Only this time, this stunt went horribly wrong and he had a horrific accident which left him severely brain damaged. This is his account of what happened and how he recovered (he is back presenting the show). It is an amazing story, narrated not only by himself but also his wife, and how this accident affected her and their family as well. (She basically moved into hospital with him and helped him on his long road to recovery.)

    I am usually not a fan of autobiographies, but something made me pick this up in Tesco's and I haven't been able to put it down. A very honest and moving story, of how a man, always interested in speed, cars and bikes, survived and pulled through a really nasty crash.

    Any Top Gear lovers out there, I can't recommend this book highly enough.
    She's worth whatever chaos she brings to the table and you know it. ~ Mark Anthony
  • FelixLeiter ♀FelixLeiter ♀ Staffordshire or a pubPosts: 1,286MI6 Agent
    Snakehead by Anthony Horowitz

    A fantastic complex story. There was so many strands it would take me forever to list them all. In all the Alex Rider books there is always something that Alex knows yet isn't revealed to the reader until near the end. Unfortunately I can never figure it out. Though that does always mean that I have a surprising twist instore, waiting for me. I eagerly await the next in the series.

    My Booky Wook by Russell Brand

    I would never have figured that Russell Brand is such articulate writing man! Reading it has encouraged me to brush up on my own vocabulary - and invest in a better dictionary. It was highly entertaining though not as funny as I had hoped. Overall though, still a fantastic read.
    Relax darling, I'm on top of the situation -{
  • John DrakeJohn Drake On assignmentPosts: 2,564MI6 Agent
    Thanks for the suggestions Hardy, Loeff and Dan. I'll keep an eye out for those. I just made my way through Margaret Atwood's The Blind Assassin. Much better than the last two novels I read, but the protagonist was such a stuck up bint I kind of felt nothing beyond admiring Atwood's writing.

    I also read one of MC Beaton's Hamish Macbeth novels, Death of a Gossip. Totally different from the TV show and not nearly as funny.
  • 00-Agent00-Agent CaliforniaPosts: 452MI6 Agent
    For Special Services by John Gardner was in a word, disappointing. A considerable drop in quality from License Renewed. The novel brings back SPECTER and Blofeld who has hatched a new diabolical plot that evolves using Bond when there is no good reason to involve him. It has a twist in the end the when new Blofeld is identified which caught me by surprise only because it made no sense. I felt the novel had a strained plot with a lot of inconsistencies.
    "A blunt instrument wielded by a Government department. Hard, ruthless, sardonic, fatalistic. He likes gambling, golf, fast motor cars. All his movements are relaxed and economical". Ian Fleming
  • PendragonPendragon ColoradoPosts: 2,640MI6 Agent
    edited August 2008
    Halfway through TRAITOR'S MOON by Lynn Flewelling. This is the thrid book in her NIGHTRUNNER series. They're Sci Fi/Fantasy novels that my friend Vocal got me hopelessly addicted to. Plenty of action, some magic (like, Wizards), and of course, romance. I will say, if you're not comfortable with same sex relationships, don't pick these books up.

    great read for any sci fi or fantasy fan. :D Technically, they're "teen - young adult", but I'm sure any one can get any level of meaning out of them.

    ~Pendragon -{
    Hey! Observer! You trying to get yourself Killed?
  • HardyboyHardyboy Posts: 5,838Chief of Staff
    Waterloo, by Bernard Cornwell. This was to be the last of the Richard Sharpe novels, but as we all know, he just kept marching along. The phrase "it educates while it entertains" really applies to this one: how the great battle developed and was fought is spelled out in fascinating detail, and though everyone knows the outcome, it's still suspenseful. In some ways, too, this is an anti-war novel: Cornwell pulls no punches when it comes to the arrogance and stupidity of the officers, the horror of battle, and the brutality of the soldiers. Worth reading whether or not you've read any other Sharpe novels.
    Vox clamantis in deserto
  • Lazenby880Lazenby880 LondonPosts: 525MI6 Agent
    Adam Hall, pseudonym of Elleston Trevor, is best known for the fantastic Quiller series, about a British agent who is about as hardcore as they come. Before that he wrote The Volcanoes of San Domingo, published in 1963. I have read quite a few Quillers now (which I have not got around to reviewing yet) and I picked this novel up in a second-hand bookshop to see how it compared to the his seminal Quiller work. The plot revolves around Paul Rayner, reasonably high up in an airline company, who is sent to Aguador, a Latin American island dictatorship, to investigate the crash of an airliner which went without a trace a few years previously. It had been thought that there were no survivors, until someone sights the captain of the airliner Captain Lindstrom in Aguador. Near the beginning of the novel Rayner "felt that he should never have come here, because he was sure that Marsh had been drunk and that Lindstrom was dead". If only life were that easy in the life of a thriller character!

    To cut a long story short, Rayner ends up finding out where the airliner crashed and goes out to find it with a local. He also happens upon another survivor, an attractive French woman who is very cagey about everything. After all, she is supposed to be dead. Rayner asks too many questions and makes himself an enemy of the government and the local police, getting arrested and deported. Rayner manages to escape the plane and must go rough so that he is not recaptured. His boss flies out to Aguador (he has sent someone else, Willis, to complete the job yet ayner refuses to come home). In the end the wreck is found, with a very satisfying ending when we learn exactly what happened to the aircraft, and how it links into what happened to Rayner during his investigation.

    Hall handles the thriller elements well: it is never clear just how much the airline company want Rayner to succeed given the negative publicity it might attract. Something strange also hangs over Rayner's arrest, until it is made clear later on the novel just who arranged it (and no, it isn't the airline company). There is a prototype Quiller moment: we think Rayner has been flown home at the end of one chapter, and then the next chapter switches to a conversation between Willis and the boss (Gates). At the end of the conversation, and at the end of that chapter, Willis notices that Rayner is walking towards them. The way it was done reminded me greatly of those moments in Quiller novels when you think he's gone, only to reappear a minute later with an explanation of how he got there a few pages down the line.

    There is also a nice atmosphere of revolution in the air in Aguador which adds some local colour as well as being woven into the central plot. This point becomes absolutely critical, in fact, and I think it could have been strengthened. There is a feeling of paranoia and conspiracy involving the locals throughout, however this political angle required a bit more development, in my view. There are a few odd sentences, like "He stroked her living hair". Her living hair? I was also quite surprised at the lack of Quiller-isms. It read very traditionally, not like an Adam Hall novel. Perhaps it is unfair to compare, however 'The Volcanoes of San Domingo' did not stand out as particularly identifiable. There was none of the psychological insight found in Quiller novels. There was none of the slowing down of the action until you are practically sweating with the character.

    I'm probably being a little harsh. It was a standard thriller. It kept me reading throughout, and the feeling of the tropics was well-rendered. I did find it enjoyable. I was just expecting something excellent. I got something good. Six not-bitten-nails out of ten.
  • John DrakeJohn Drake On assignmentPosts: 2,564MI6 Agent
    Fray by Joss Whedon

    Graphic novel from the creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Maleka Fray is a young thief specialising in stealing valuable items for her employer. It's the future, and all demons have been removed from the earth, thanks to a certain slayer in the 21st century. Except there are these things hiding out in the shadows called Lurks, who like to bite people, but nobody really takes them seriously. There hasn't been a slayer in centuries, so when a stranger turns up in Maleka's neighbourhood calling her the Chosen One, then immolating himself in front of her, she's a little perturbed. Even more so when a demon turns up and offers to act as her Watcher. Entertaining stuff from Mr Whedon, that fits nicely into the mythos of the TV show. Incidentally, Whedon is continuing the TV show in comic book form, and I must now get a hold of these.
  • Lazenby880Lazenby880 LondonPosts: 525MI6 Agent
    edited August 2008
    Adam Hall’s Quiller is undoubtedly one of spy fiction’s great characters. It has been fascinating, over the past eighteen months or so, to get acquainted with him, with his paranoia, his foibles, his neurosis, his tension as he edges to some point of incredible danger and sweats and doubts and, sometimes, almost, dies. At times he exists merely as a voice conveying all sorts of psychological machinations; at times he seems almost machine-like as he efficiently and ruthlessly sets about his work. Yet there are also moments, fleeting though they might be, that Quiller’s inner humanity comes to the fore. That was certainly what I found in ‘Northlight’.

    The plot is incredibly complicated, but I will try to recount it here. An American submarine is sunk, the suspicion amongst the Western powers being that the Soviets sank it as it strayed into their waters. The Soviets deny all. Unfortunately for them, it turns out there is evidence for this, indeed a tape recording exists of the order to sink which has been snuck out by a British intelligence sleeper (Karasov) and given to a runner (Brekhov). The Bureau calls up Quiller to get the tape from Brekhov in Berlin. Quiller goes there to rendezvous at a hotel with Brekhov, however the Russians have also noticed Brekhov’s appearance and tail him. A brilliant chase ensues through the streets of Berlin (which the Bourne films echo quite considerably). Brekhov dies, but Quiller gets the tape. Unfortunately Karasov gets wind of his impending discovery and goes on the run. Given his services to the British state and with a USA-USSR conference in Vienna at stake, Quiller is then assigned to get him across the border into the West (a valuable pawn in the game of international diplomacy).

    The internal politics of the Bureau is once again recounted with delicious realism – it is somewhat satisfying to know that the same petty office politicking occurs within the Bureau as in countless workplaces. However, this turns out not to be petty at all on Quiller’s part. He is assigned Fane as his local control. Quiller wants Ferris. The full ramifications of this are detailed in a shocking twist later on. Karasov’s mistress, Tanya, contacts the British embassy. Quiller goes to meet her and almost immediately disregards Fane’s order that going from covert to clandestine only be used as a last resort. For this mission, Quiller knows he has to go clandestine. Quiller is being followed, not by the KGB but by a Swiss named Rinker. This is confirmed when Quiller turns around to see Rinker being picked up by the KGB, only for Rinker to take a cyanide pill. Rinker also has a cell of men following Quiller. It is later revealed that Karasov never knew a woman called Tanya, and that Karasov has *also* been slipping information to the Chinese. This is where the Rinker cell come in – Karasov has told the Chinese that he accidentally wiped the tape, however they have sent men to take him in to reveal his information and scupper the Vienna conference.

    Still there? Karasov needs new papers to get him across. Fane sets up a rendezvous for Karasov to get these papers. The KGB are waiting for him there. They kill him. In an excruciating scene, Quiller escapes. The twist is that it was Fane who blew the rendezvous, under orders from Croder, the superior of both Quiller and Fane back in London! The British made a deal with the Russians. The latter knew that the former had listened to the tape but that it was destroyed. If Karasov were given the opportunity to talk to the media, the American public would never allow the President to go to the conference given that the Soviets (at least a lowly and overanxious chap who overstepped the mark in setting off the missile for the submarine in the first place) had taken so many American lives. The Russians have no idea where Karasov is – he’s our sleeper after all. So for the sake of the summit it was agreed that once the British recovered Karasov they would alert the Soviets. Quiller, in a sense, was to be collateral damage. Now Quiller has to escape, and he demands one man he can trust to get him out – Ferris.

    That is the simplified version. There is also a bomb in a truck Fane planted which nearly kills Quiller, a female CIA agent posing as a journalist, later revealed as an actual defector to the Soviets, and a pilot who helps the British out who tries to escape with Quiller (albeit with a heavy conscience). It *is* complex, with a myriad of twists all the way through. But is also a brilliantly plotted book. The writing is uniformly excellent – matters move at a brisk enough pace and Hall’s individualistic style ensures that this reader at least never got lost. As ever one gets right into Quiller’s head so one can feel every doubt, every bead of sweat, every glance over the shoulder. Quiller is more than just a voice. The humanity is something I often miss in Quiller novels as there is an undoubted element of business-as-usual about the way in which he goes about his work. In ‘Northlight’ he tries to convince the reader of the righteousness of killing one of the cell of men following him, recounting the words of a training manual which advised executives to leave their consciences behind when on a mission. Quiller is not unfeeling at all; by extension he is almost trying to convince himself. There is a hint of regret as he narrates an aspect of his past to the reader, looking down on another schoolboy from an upper window: “I hadn’t thrown him, of course. But I knew why he’d done it.”

    The plot as I have detailed it seems exceedingly complicated. In Hall’s delivery it twists and turns with aplomb. The shifting loyalties and doubting of masters are articulated perfectly. Quiller really does emerge as an incredible character in ‘Northlight’: dark, yes, but also human. The final twist of the knife – the Bureau’s involvement in Quiller’s planned demise – is cynical, brutal and brilliant. In fact in some ways it is a perfect spy novel, probably not the best Quiller novel to start off with but certainly, for me, the best expression of the Quiller elements. There is one passage in particular which symbolises why this novel is, personally, the best Quiller I have read:

    “I will risk death in the labyrinthine tunnels of a given mission, ferreting my way through the dark and through the dangers, alert for the footfall, for the shadow, for the glint of steel that must be seen in time and dealt with, dog eat dog, for this is the way, the only way to the objective: this is my trade and this is how I ply it. I always know, when I leave the open streets of public life and slip into the alleyways of private peril, that this time it may lead to that last dead end, that this time there may be a rose for Moira.

    But I won’t let my own controls plot my destruction, however vital the issue, however great the gain. I reserve the right, gentlemen, to face my deathbringer in my own good time.”

    Ten bitten-nails out of ten.
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