Tuesday, February 13, 2007

I had seven faces, wish I knew which one to wear

I am so happy about Charles McCarry. If his other books are as good as Secret Lovers , then my faith in spy fiction is redeemed. With the exception of Alan Furst, and back cataloging with Eric Ambler and early John Le Carre , I had more or less written off the spy genre. Fool!

There is much to like in this book. The plot I have discussed below. Of course we get the Cold War atmosphere, but this book nicely ties in the events that helped shape it. Many of the characters in the novel, set in 1960, are veterans of the idealism-shattering Spanish Civil War and others are emotionally crippled by the life of spying. The details of tradecraft are wonderful. McCarry doesn't become overly fascinated with it, and even has some of his characters becoming frustrated by less experienced operatives fixation on proper spy tradecraft.

I especially liked the main character, Paul Christopher. He is a keen observer, maybe a bit too keen. His sense of smell superstrong and he plays close attention to human reaction. This is key to his job, a recruiter of traitors. He is a master manipulator of his subjects, but perhaps because he wants to separate his job from his marriage or perhaps because of his constant cloaking of the genuine, he is unable to communicate with his wife. While his disintegrating marriage seems at first to be a subplot designed to show the stress of the operative's life, it is eventually revealed to be part of the book's theme, the sheer destructive pleasure of hiding things from others and creating new identities.

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