Friday, February 22, 2008

Prince of Spies

For many years, the superior spy novels of Charles McCarry were only found in used bookshops. Thanks to republication by Overlook Press, it is now possible to easily get copies of McCarry's Paul Christopher novels. I've just finished the Last Supper, which is probably the best of the four Cold War Christopher novels.

What I find most remarkable about these four novels is that they remain consistently excellent while being dramatically different in execution. The first, Miernik Dossier, is the most experimental. It using a documentation review as the framing device, and the reader is meant to be a government official examining various reports from a spy operation.

The Tears of Autumn is a conspiracy thriller with Christopher developing a novel theory about the Kennedy assassination. Be sure to read this before you read Last Supper as it is partially a sequel to that book. This one is a bit bleak.

The Secret Lovers precedes Tears of Autumn chronologically and is the most conventional spy novel of the bunch. It will be one of the finest spy novels you read, but it is at heart a basic story of betrayal and identity.

With the Last Supper, McCarry goes epic. The time scale is much longer, starting just after WW1 and ending in the early 80s. It spans two (maybe three) generations of the Christopher family and their strong wills and great misfortune. There are many more characters and non-obvious interactions. I think James Ellroy read this one, as I can see how the murky moralities and actions of the main characters influenced the LA Quartet.

While these books are different, together they paint a fascinating view of the world of espionage as a machine that churns up its participants, but they keep coming back for more. The overall tone is realist as to what can be achieved although an element of despair creeps into the final book. These are consistently good books and I will continue reading them.

No comments: