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review 2018-06-08 19:03
Our Man In Havana by Graham Greene
Our Man in Havana - Graham Greene,Christopher Hitchens

Graham Greene is one of those authors that I've always meant to read - and following along with BrokenTune's Greene-land Adventures project increased my desire to dip into his books. The Summer of Spies gave me a perfect opportunity to check out one of his "espionage" books.


I wasn't expecting the level of farce contained in this book. It's not really a spy story - it's a story about a reluctant vacuum-salesman-turned-spy who has no intelligence to provide, but who needs to make the money he is getting for his dispatches worth the while of the British Intelligence service. So, he starts making stuff up.


There are some very funny parts of this book - the "missile drawings" that were obviously based on a vacuum cleaner is hysterical. The conversation between Hawthorne and his boss where the boss convinces himself that Wormold is actually some sort of a merchant king is bitingly funny, and also quite a propos of current politics, where, apparently, 49% of America can be convinced that a lying moron with inherited money is actually a brilliant strategist worthy of being President. 


When it is in your interest to believe something, this book points out, reality is of little import.


And, as it is in life, when delusion collides with truth, someone is probably going to die. The ending is a brilliant illustration of what happens when human beings are confronted with an inconvenient and embarrassing reality - sometimes maintaining the lie is easier than acknowledging that you've been fooled.


So it goes...





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review 2018-06-05 15:48
Summer of Spies: Book 4
Message From Malaga - Helen MacInnes

Just a quick review of this one before I head out to work! The MC of this one is Ian Ferrier, who is visiting a friend in Malaga, goes to see some flamenco and become embroiled in danger after his friend, who is working for the CIA, is murdered by some spies.


This is classic MacInnes - well-rendered, exotic location, in this case Spain, a strong, attractive, every day man who has to step up to serve his country heroically, a beautiful woman who is working on the side of good, and a very slender romance subplot between the two.


I'm not entirely sure why I like her books so much. This one had less regressive gender stereotyping than many of her earlier books, although it is still present. In addition, her books are quite slow-paced, especially compared to modern espionage fiction. Nonetheless, I always enjoy dipping into my kindle collection of Helen MacInnes spy fiction, and I am delighted that Titan Books picked her up to re-release on kindle.

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review 2018-05-26 17:00
Summer of Spies: Book 1
Berlin Game - Len Deighton

Originally published in 1983, I distinctly remember seeing this book - along with the other two in the series - hanging around my parents bookshelves during the mid-1980's. I headed off to college in 1984 and never permanently lived with them again, just spending summers and vacations in their home. I do not think that I ever read any of them, but I was a tennis player, so I was taken with the title conceit.


I never read as much espionage as straight up mystery, but I did enjoy Helen MacInnes, and read some of the standard spy novelists, including Ludlum, Clancy (so long-winded), Ken Follett (before he started writing historical fiction) and Nelson DeMille, all of whom I plan to revisit in my summer of spies. I hadn't ever really noticed what a sausagefest spy fiction is until I started making my list yesterday, but women authors are few and far between with this genre. If anyone knows of any, let me know in the comments. I haven't made a list with this few women in years.


So, to the matter at hand. Berlin Game is not your standard spy fic. Bernard Samson is an aging spy with an expertise on Berlin who is sent back into the field when one of the British assets starts to look like he has gone a bit wobbly. Sampson is a spy who is the son of a spy, husband of a spy and is well embedded into the British intelligence service. He is a bit world-weary and cynical, and things at home are not great and he's been out of the field for five years. In addition, as the book progresses, it becomes clear that the British service has been infiltrated, and there is a highly placed spy in their midst.


Berlin is still a divided city in this book, and the Cold War is in full force and effect. I am not familiar with Berlin, my European travels having taken me to Munich, but not to Berlin, but Deighton's sense of place is palpable and convincing. This is the world of my youth, so I can connect to it with ease.


The action is this one is understated, without the frenetic pace that is more common in modern fiction. It unfolds at a leisurely pace, allowing me to get to know Samson, his wife Fiona, and the other men (and a few women) in the intelligence service. Once Bernard goes back to Berlin to try to extract the asset, things pick up a bit, and the end isn't a complete blindside, but it is a bit of a shocker and is quite well-done. I definitely want to read the other two in this first Samson trilogy, Mexico Set and London Match, as part of my summer spy-fest!



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