Book reviews: spy and investigation genre fiction
Updated December 20, 1996
New (December 20, 1996): Added a review of
John Le Carre
is most definitely the master of the spy fiction genre. I highly recommend
The Spy Who Came in from the Cold and
The Russia House.
However, be forewarned that Le Carre tends
to be rather contemplative and thus his material sometimes moves slowly.
After reading these two books, I went out and bought his whole catalogue,
I am slowly working my way through. Some of them are real clunkers!
I'd be interested in hearing from other Le Carre enthusiasts.
On a road trip last fall, I had the chance to listen to
a 6-hour abridgement of
Le Carre's A Perfect Spy, read by LeCarre himself.
I had twice attempted to read the book, but had
become bogged down after about 150 pages, or one quarter of the way through.
I didn't have the patience for the slow pace. Listening
to the abridgement, I found that the story doesn't pick
up much, but it was excellent for our drive from Toronto to Cincinnati.
The story is about a spy (what else?) Pym who escapes the service.
two timelines: one is the story of Pym and his father, and the other is
the chase to find Pym, wherever he is.
People from the net (hello out there!) have recommended LeCarre's
Quest for Karla trilogy to me.
It consists of the three novels
Tinker, Sailor, Soldier, Spy, followed by
The Honourable Schoolboy, and finishes with
Smiley's People. Apparently the first and last are quite
good, and the second is worth reading to get the entire sweep of the story.
Martin Cruz Smith
One of my favourites is Martin Cruz Smith's
It isn't a spy novel or political thriller per se, but it appeals
to the same side of me that is attracted to Le Carre's work.
Gorky Park is a murder story told from the point of
view of a Moscow investigator.
It resonates with the ring of truth throughout its layers of complexity,
both of plot line and of character. I also liked its sequel,
I've just finished (June 1996) the third book in the
sequence, Red Square. It too is excellent.
The last chapter
gives quite a moving picture of the essence and meaning of
To give you an idea of the depth and ``ring of truth'' atmosphere in
Red Square goes into some detail about the Chechens in Russia/USSR.
This book was the first place that I had heard of the Chechens --
and this was months before the Russian/Chechen war broke out. (I started
reading Red Square in the summer of '94 but had to stop. I only went back
to it in June of '96.)
I'm so impressed with Smith that I may just acquire and read his a good
portion of his entire body of work as well.
I've just bought (June 1996) Stallion Gate,
Smith's fictional story
of the early stages of the
Manhattan Project. I hope to read it very soon.
In the fall of 1996 I read Enigma by
Robert Harris. It bills itself as ``documentary fiction'',
following the story
of the fictional Tom Jericho in the very real setting of Bletchley Park,
England during the World War II. Bletchley Park is the British
code-breaking hothouse, where Alan Turing and company broke German
U-boat Enigma codes.
Jericho's story intertwines the historical
of the battle of the Atlantic, the battle to break the codes, and a spy
story. There is love, deception, history, politics, and more. Harris does a
good job of rolling them all into one believable, even gripping novel.
This deserves to be a best-seller.
I tried reading Tom Clancy's
The Hunt for Red October but for
me the story got bogged down in all the technical detail with which
he was trying to impress. If I had wanted to read a manual, I would
have gone out and read a manual.
Go see his movies instead.
Besides, Clancy's too much of a right-winger for me.
I had read of Robert Ludlum's reputation, so I went and bought
The Icarus Agenda. 675 pages of improbable trash. At least
my copy was second hand. :)
Back to David Neto's books page
Back to David Neto's home page