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text 2018-08-13 20:10
Summer of Spies - Tracking Post
Who is Vera Kelly? - Rosalie Knecht,Elisabeth Rodgers
Berlin Game - Len Deighton,James Lailey
The Mask of Dimitrios - Eric Ambler,Mark Mazower
Above Suspicion - Helen MacInnes
Blowback - Valerie Plame Wilson,Sarah Lovett,Negin Farsad
The Traveller Returns - Patricia Wentworth
The Spy - Paulo Coelho
Zoo Station - David Downing
The Zhivago Affair: The Kremlin, the CIA, and the Battle Over a Forbidden Book - Simon Vance,Peter Finn,Petra Couvée
Night Soldiers - Alan Furst

Memorial Day Weekend -- Labor Day 2018

 

Finished, to Date:

Fiction

Emmuska Orczy: The Scarlet Pimpernel (revisited on audio, narrated by Stephen Crossly) ****1/2

Agatha Christie: N or M? (revisited on audio, narrated by Samantha Bond) ***

Ian Fleming: Quantum of Solace (short story only; new / audio, narrated by David Rintoul) *1/2

Kate Westbrook: Guardian Angel (new / audio, narrated by Eleanor Bron) ***1/2

Stella Rimington: Secret Asset (new / audio, narrated by Rosalyn Landor) ****

Francine Mathews: The Cutout (new / audio, narrated by Trini Alvarado) **1/2

Jane Thynne: Black Roses (new / audio, narrated by Julie Teal) ****

John le Carré: The Tailor of Panama (revisited on audio, narrated by the author) ****1/2

Graham Greene: Our Man in Havana (audio, narrated by Jeremy Northam) ****1/2

Agatha Christie: They Came to Baghdad (new / audio, narrated by Emilia Fox) ***1/2

Rosalie Knecht: Who Is Vera Kelly? (new / audio, narrated by Elisabeth Rodgers) ***1/2

Len Deighton: Berlin Game (new / audio, narrated by James Lailey) ****

Eric Ambler: The Mask of Dimitrios (new / print) ****

Helen MacInnes: Above Suspicion (new / print) ****1/2

Valerie Plame Wilson, Sarah Lovett: Blowback (new / audio, narrated by Negin Farsad) ***

Patricia Wentworth: The Traveller Returns (new / print) ****

Paulo Coelho: The Spy (new / English print version + German audio, narrated by Luise Helm and Sven Görtz) ***1/2

David Downing: Zoo Station (new / print) ****
 

John Le Carré: George Smiley Cycle

The Spy Who Came in From the Cold (revisited on audio, narrated by the author) *****

The Looking Glass War (new / audio, narrated by Michael Jayston) ***1/2

Smiley's People (revisited on audio, narrated by Michael Jayston) *****

 

 

Nonfiction

Stella Rimington: Open Secret: The Autobiography of the Former Director-General of MI5 (new / print edition) ****

Peter Finn & Petra Couvée: The Zhivago Affair (new / audio, narrated by Simon Vance) **1/2

 
 

Currently Reading:

Alan Furst: Night Soldiers
 

 

 

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text 2018-07-07 16:19
Reading progress update: I've read 48 out of 343 pages.
Above Suspicion - Helen MacInnes

Oh, wow.  I'm only a few chapters in, but this is feeling mighty topical already -- even more so given that it's not historical fiction but was actually published in 1941 (note: it's set in the summer of 1939):

 

"'It is really very sad for a German to find how misjudged and abused his country is.  Of course, our enemies control the Press in foreign countries, and they have been very busy.  They have clever tongues.'

'Have they?  It is strange, isn't it, how criticism of Germany has grown even in countries which were once really very close to her.  I wonder how it could have happened.'"

(P. 25)

 

"'You are a very prejudiced person, I can see.  I suppose you will now lecture me gravely on the wickedness of Germany's claims to natural Lebensraum.  It is easy to talk when you have a large Empire.'

'On the contrary, Herr von Aschenhausen, I like to think of all people having their Lebensraum, whether they are Germans or Jews or Czechs or Poles.'

His voice grated.  He was really angry.  'It is just such thoughts as these which have weakened Britain.  In the last twenty-five years she could have established herself as ruler of the world.  Instead, she makes a Commonwealth out of an Empire, and they won't even fight to help her when she has to fight.  She leaves the riches of India untapped; she urges a representative government on Indians who were about to refuse it.  She alienates Italy with sanctions.  She weakens herself all the time and she thinks it is an improvement.'"

(P. 27)

 

"'Well, I suppose if a nation allows concentration camps, it will find it hard to believe that other people don't use similar methods.  Cheeer up, old girl, who cares what a lot of uncivilised people think anyway?  It's only the opinion of the civilised that really matters.'

'Yes, but it looks as if a lot of the civilised will be killed because they ignored the thoughts of the uncivilised.  Ignoring doesn't expose them, you know, Richard.'"

(P. 32)

 

"[...] And then bastards like von Aschenhausen come along all smiles and bows.  And wonder why people are not enthusiastic about them.  They blackmailed us with bombers one year, and go back on the agreement they had extorted out of us, and then expect to be welcomed as friends.  All within nine months."

(P. 33)

 

"There's nothing like self-pity for thoroughly dissipating a man.  And when a nation indulges in that luxury it finds itself with a dictator.  Wrongs and injustices come in at the door and reason flies out of the window.  It's a solution which does not flatter the human race."

(P. 43)

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text 2018-05-17 12:16
Reading progress update: I've read 236 out of 320 pages.
A is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie - Kathryn Harkup

Phosphorus and Ricin -- two particularly nasty ones.  And the way she's describing the discovery of phosphorus, it sounds like something straight out of a sorcerer's lab ... byproduct of the search for the philosophers' stone.  Why stop at gold, anyway?!

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text 2018-05-14 12:58
Reading progress update: I've read 202 out of 320 pages.
A is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie - Kathryn Harkup

What does it say that I read the opium chapter this night, after having woken up at 4:00AM (against all habit)?

 

I can see the temptation in using Sad Cypress as the anchor book for this chapter, and I'm glad Harkup gave an unambiguous spoiler warning this time around before proceeding to give away the final twist, in order to be able to address a compound that Christie uses in this novel (and which she only mentions by name in Poirot's final round-up of the suspects).  Still, it's not like this is the only book by Christie where morphine plays a prominent role, and Harkup would have been able to do without a spoiler completely by choosing, say, By the Pricking of My Thumbs (which was likely inspired by one of the real life cases Harkup addresses anyway), discuss morphine, heroin / diamorphine and codeine exactly the way she does here, and then, without specifically identifying Sad Cypress, tag on a paragraph beginning with "In another book, the poisoner ..." -- and then proceed to describing the solution of Sad Cypress.  Ah, well.  But, as I said, at least this time around there's a clear spoiler warning ... which should absolutely be heeded by anybody who hasn't read Sad Cypress yet.

 

Notes on the previous chapters:

 

I'm now wondering whether the murderer in Ellis Peters's Monk's Hood would really have made it all the way to being found out by Brother Cadfael, a considerable time after the murder, without suffering the slightest effects of the drug himself.

 

And while I thought I couldn't possibly be more scared of both nicotine and opiates than I already am anyway, just reading about the chemistry involved all over again was a not-very-much-needed refresher of just how scary these really are.  And, um, why kicking the habit (smoking) once and for all some 20 years ago was definitely the right thing to do.

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text 2018-05-10 13:09
Reading progress update: I've read 140 out of 320 pages.
A is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie - Kathryn Harkup

Oh, FIE.  Major spoiler alert.

 

In the "Hemlock" chapter, Harkup gives away -- without any prior warning whatsoever -- the identity of not one but two of the key suspects in Five Little Pigs who ultimately turn out to be innocent, and she also reveals the answer to the question that Poirot is chiefly asked to resolve.  This concerns persons whom Christie builds up as particularly "promising" suspects with great skill throughout the novel, with many clues pointing in their direction, and the revelation that they are innocent (and how the clues pointing to them are actually red herrings, and what they really mean) is a key part of Poirot's eventual summing up.  Even worse, knowing that -- and why -- these two persons didn't do it, and what the clues pointing to them actually mean, opens up direct lines of reasoning pointing to the true killer (whom Harkup doesn't reveal, but who is fairly easy to identify once you start questioning / rethinking those clues -- or at the very least, Harkup's hints also help eliminate other suspects).

 

If you haven't read Five Little Pigs yet, I strongly suggest you don't read the Hemlock chapter of Harkup's book until after you've read the novel.  For all I can see so far, there are no cross-references to this chapter with other parts of A Is For Arsenic, so it's not like you're missing anything that you need to know to be able to follow the rest.

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