Monday, September 24, 2007

Tears of Autumn

The Tears of Autumn is a sober cousin to the paranoid 1970s spy films like Three Days of the Condor and the Parallax View. Like them it investigates a conspiracy, in this case the assassination of President Kennedy, but reveals it more a case of policy failure and politics as usual than the dark-forces-a-work view prevalent at the time.

Like many other books, this story features CIA operative Paul Christopher who believes that he knows who killed Kennedy and why. When he is not allowed to investigate, he resigns to pursue his theory. While this sounds cliched, it plays differently. Christopher is blocked for trivial reasons by the more powerful and he proceeds to investigate by having conversations with the right people and conducing simple, non-violent covert action. Don't look to McCarry for tales of a mild-mannered superheroic spy. Instead look at how spies use intelligence and manipulation to get what they want.

The assassination story is well constructed and is complicated by actors who are unaware of each other. Like so much of McCarry's stories, it has the great feel of reality, perhaps because of the often mundane details. The manner in which the assassins cover their tracks is not through high tech means, but simple process that makes sense once explained.

This novel has relevance today as a key part of the action is the tension between long time professional government employees and the powerful politically appointed policy makers. There is a tension in all administrations, but as is becoming all too clear, some administrations simply ignore professional advice and input when it doesn't suit them.

If you like spy novels, you owe to your self to read Charles McCarry. For more have at look at my thoughts on Secret Lovers and the Miernik Dossier.


kwandongbrian said...

I didn't care for 'Tears of Autumn". I just didn't feel tension - Christopher was so good that everything worked for him. It was all too easy.

Tripp said...

I can see that, he certainly made far more mistakes in Secret Lovers and the Miernik Dossier.

What I liked in this one was the interaction among the various factions and the (SPOILER) blowback due to policy. I was going to say poorly thought out, which is how McCarry presents it, but I think it could also be read as a calculation gone bad.

On the whole this is less of a spy novel and more of an international relations novel.