Sunday, October 28, 2012

our kind of traitor

Nice job John le Carré! Our Kind of Traitor was a refreshing twist on the spy novel. Le Carré has really put together a tightly knit, and intriguingly told spy novel, written from the POV of layman like you and me.

Young, Oxford academic, Perry Makepiece and his potential fiance, Gail Perkins decide to take the sun in Antigua for some couple-time and tennis and run into a shady but personable Russian called Dima by his friends. It quickly becomes obvious to Perry and Gail that their new friend Dima is not only shady, but extremely wealthy, driven, persistent and growingly determined to draw the young couple way outside their comfort zone.

Through the innocent eyes of Perry and Gail, le Carré paints a complex and frankly depressing portrait of security services in England, and by extension, most other developed nations. Our young couple has become drawn, even enamored--almost against their collective wills--with Dima, his strange and dysfunctional family, the British agents they approach for help, and the whole cloak-and-dagger experience of being caught up in something larger than themselves.

Le Carré* caught my eye again after the Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy movie adaptation recently. I may have read this, or The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, when I was a teen. And then just a few years ago I read his Single & Single, which was okay, but cooled me on him for a while.

Read this book.

* John le Carré is the pen name for David John Moore Cornwell

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

carte blanche

Carte Blanche is Jeffery Deaver's shot at James Bond. The 007 franchise* apparently worked out a deal with Deaver to write this new Bond novel, and they apparently hold the copyright, according to the frontmatter in the paperback I read. So come on, lets celebrate Bond Day** with a smashing new book. What, what?

Deaver is no slouch when it comes to action novels, and he's written his fair share of intrigue (he's probably best known for his Lincoln Rhyme series), but I don't really think of him as spy novel guy. I haven't read a lot of his books, but a few and I've usually liked them, so I was happy to give him a go at 007 to see how he did. All-in-all: not bad.

James Bond has got to be a difficult character to take on as a writer when folks know the character so well from the Fleming books, (its been nearly 60 years after Ian Fleming's first novel: Casino Royale) and especially the movies. The movies did change Bond's character somewhat as the times changed, and one could say that this new novel is just another step in that long path for James Bond. Some of the later movies are based on bond short stories Fleming wrote, including Quantum of Solace, which surprised me given its modern sounding title.*** According to Slate; "There have been 23 official Bond novels written since Fleming's death, produced by five different authors." Who knew?

Carte Blanche is fast moving, and well paced. Bond's personality and inner thoughts punctuate the text, and there are some subtleties such as what he drinks, and how he thinks about the tasks at hand, that stray from the super-confident character of the earlier movies, but I'm not sure how different this is from the Fleming novels: its been years since I read one. Bond does seems both modernized, and softened in this novel.

There were also a few softballs where Bond escaped by the skin of his teeth, and Deaver didn't really work it out for us, and he made use of the tragic-cliffhanging-chapter-end quite a bit. So, a little rough around the edges; maybe a little lazy, even. Will Deaver get the chance to write another one? I guess we'll have to wait and see.

One last thing: product placements in novels? I hope not, but that's what it looked like to me. ick

Okay, second last thing: Jeffery Deaver is American, right, not British. I'm not sure how many of those other post-Fleming writers were British, but I'm guessing it was like... all of them.

* Ian Fleming Publications LTD

** October 5, 2012 was 'Global James Bond Day' or the 50th anniversary of the film franchise.

*** quantum (noun) - a required or allowed amount, esp. an amount of money legally payable in damages.
-a share or portion : each man has only a quantum of compassion. oops

Thursday, October 11, 2012

faerie wars

Faerie Wars was a fast read, clearly designed for the fantasy loving YA crowd, but who doesn't love a little bit of that! This story had it all--in addition to faeries--action, deceit, war, multiverse, magic, hi tech, murder, demons, shot guns, brimstone, and teen crushes. What else do you need? I think I read this in three days. no big deal, you say, but it normally takes me weeks to read a book

I must be on some kind of a jag--a bender even*--but seems like every book I've picked up since Updike has been written by a Brit. Herbie Brennan seems to know his way around a YA novel however, and this Faerie Wars series looks like it has 5 books thus far. Next on the list is The Purple Emperor.

Henry Atherton seems like a regular kid in his mid-teens. But the stresses of a less than perfect home life and middle class boredom quickly melt away as he comes across a misdirected faerie in the garden of a crotchety retiree he works for in his neighborhood. Pretty soon, the faerie is more than it seems, and so is the retiree, and Henry is up to his neck in the kind of excitement you don't normally run across in a small village in Britain. here ends my gushing, back-of-the-book review blurb

Brennan has constructed a story based on a pretty bulletproof structure, but the writing is light and easy to read, and the dialog is punctuated with some pretty sophisticated humor, including a fair amount of British sarcasm. It was also nice that this story wrapped up without a cliffhanger. Don't get me wrong, it looks like there is plenty of material for additional books, and enough storyline to carry on into other volumes, but the plot did cinch nicely at the end.

* this phrase is most properly articulated in a Snagglepuss accent

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

scorpion winter

I'm pretty sure this is the third in the Scorpion series by Andrew Kaplan. I started with the second one a few month ago: Scorpion Betrayal. I guess there is an original, called Scorpion, but I haven't seen it, and my library doesn't have it.* I'll have to find it though, because this one was good, but not as good as the second one, so I'm guessing that the pattern works backward to awesome at the first one. va bene cosi?

Scorpion is a pretty kick-ass (and don't-bother-taking-names) kind of guy. What's nice is that his heart is in the right place, but unlike similar characters, like Steve Berry's Cotton Malone, Scorpion isn't the reluctant hero necessarily. If there is some ass kicking that needs to be done, or even a little private justice, Scorpion does what he thinks needs to be done. This makes Scorpion harder, and a little rougher around the edges; more similar to Lee Child's Jack Reacher.

Kaplan tells a good story, but this one didn't wrap up as cleanly as it could have. There was a bit of an info dump at the end, that helped to fill in some of the backstory. There had to be a better way to incorporate this information, or maybe just leave it out. Word is that the next in the series will be Scorpion Deception.

* Scorpion is copyrighted in 1987, 25 years ago. That's probably why I can't find it. Maybe it didn't make a splash then, or maybe it did and my library just weeded it years ago. Maybe the Scorpion revival is a personal celebration of the twenty-fifth anniversary of one of the author's favorites.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

wrong reflection

The Wrong Reflection, by ex-pat, Gillian Bradshaw is a science fiction novel that starts out like a strange, missing persons case and eventually turns into a semi-hard sci fi tromp through the halls of corporate Britain. Bradshaw has obviously been in the UK for a while, as her English sounds more British than American, but the story was solid, fun to read, and quite mysterious, which kept me reading.

Bradshaw sets our improbable and completely unknown--even to himself--hero against some pretty unsavory corporate characters, who would just as soon pin our man down to make a buck as to scrape a bit of nasty off their shoes. Gagging corporate greed along with a taste of prejudice round out the dark side of this story, and make a good balance for the unknown hero and his just-as-unlikely group of friends: the pretty young woman who saved him after the accident that caused his amnesia, and a handsome young art student who serves as his nurse during his convalescence.

Overall, the characters were a little canned feeling. We've all met these characters a thousand times in other stories. The main protagonist is probably the exception to this, he was pretty well drawn, especially after it came to light what his real identity was, and that was fun. And some of the character names were a downright adolescent. I was so, like... for real? like, no way, that is so, like... uncool.

I got this book at the used book sale at my library. I wouldn't say no to another book for a dollar from Gillian Bradshaw, but I'm not sure I would pay full price. Bradshaw has written a bunch of books tho, so maybe I picked a lemon.