Monday, January 02, 2023

Reviewing the Mail: December 29, 2022

I had an eye doctor appointment last Thursday, which meant I had to be in Manhattan - when you see a doctor once a year, you can stick with the same one for twenty-plus years, even if she's no longer all that local to anywhere you are regularly. And that meant some book-shopping.

Back in the old days, I would have come home with giant bags full of stuff, but the Strand isn't the store it once was; it has the same books you can find in every decent independent store (and many other places) at pretty much the same prices. So, from there and from the neighboring outlet of Forbidden Planet, I found a few things:

A Song of Stone by Iain Banks - I've read most of the "M" books (Banks wrote without a middle initial when committing literature and with one when committing SF), but only one or two of the others. In fact, the only one I can call to mind is The Wasp Factory, largely because I am a huge sucker for unreliable narrators. This is some sort of a thriller, set in at least a local apocalypse - "the castle" has been overrun by an "outlaw band" and things apparently get complex and dramatic from there. I think this is generally considered one of Bank's better books, and it's fairly short, too.

Call for the Dead by John Le Carre - this was his first novel, way back in 1961. I've read the next three: in reverse order The Looking Glass WarThe Spy Who Came In from the Cold and A Murder of Quality. And I've gathered a few of the later, fatter books, in large part because I like this trade dress - the other large part is that I think I'll like the books, and want to read them "someday." This one is short, so I expect I'll get to it before too long.

City of Secrets by Stewart O'Nan - I buy O'Nan's books regularly, and have been hugely impressed by every one I've read, but, even though he's not all that prolific, they tend to pile up on the shelves. His books are emotionally powerful, no matter their subject - and each book is completely different from the last - so maybe I have a hard time psyching myself up for them. But I always intend to read them! (Some of the O'Nan books I've seen: A Prayer for the Dying, The Odds, The Night Country, Last Night at the Lobster, and The Speed Queen.) This one is about a Jewish refugee in Jerusalem in 1945.

World Record Holders is a collection of comics by Guy Delisle that I didn't even know existed before I saw it on the shelf. (Even a decade and a half out of skiffy publishing, I can be surprised when that happens. I shouldn't be, since I used to take a lot of time and effort to keep up with publishing schedules, keeping endless lists and monitoring lots of catalogs and websites, but I guess it's like a missing stair and I will always hesitate when I hit it.) This is all short work, mostly from earlier in Delisle's career - most of the original publication dates are in the late '90s, with the most recent story from 2014.

And last is Sunburn, a new graphic novel by Andi Watson and Simon Gane, who previously worked together on Paris. Paris was a low-key historical romance between two women; this one seems to be contemporary and more of a coming-of-age tale, about a British girl vacationing with her family in the Greek islands. I suspect there is some romance in it, but I'm less sure if it turns out as well as in Paris - but we will see.

1 comment:

MI6 said...

Do read Bill Fairclough's fact based spy thriller, Beyond Enkription, the first stand-alone novel of six in The Burlington Files series. One day he may overtake Bond, Smiley and even Jackson Lamb!

Intentionally misspelt, Beyond Enkription is a must read for espionage illuminati. It’s a raw noir matter of fact pacy novel. Len Deighton and Mick Herron could be forgiven for thinking they co-wrote it. Coincidentally, a few critics have nicknamed its protagonist “a posh Harry Palmer.”

It is a true story about a maverick accountant, Bill Fairclough (MI6 codename JJ) aka Edward Burlington in Porter Williams International (in real life Coopers & Lybrand now PwC). In the 1970s in London he infiltrated organised crime gangs, unwittingly working for MI6. After some frenetic attempts on his life he was relocated to the Bahamas where, “eyes wide open” he was recruited by the CIA and headed for shark infested waters off Haiti.

If you’re an espionage cognoscente you’ll love this monumental book. In real life Bill Fairclough was recruited by MI6's unorthodox Colonel Alan Brooke Pemberton CVO MBE and thereafter they worked together on and off into the 1990s. You can find out more about Pemberton’s People (who even included Winston Churchill’s bodyguard) in an article dated 31 October 2022 on The Burlington Files website.

This epic is so real it made us wonder why bother reading espionage fiction when facts are so much more exhilarating. Whether you’re a le CarrĂ© connoisseur, a Deighton disciple, a Fleming fanatic, a Herron hireling or a Macintyre marauder, odds on once you are immersed in it you’ll read this titanic production twice. For more detailed reviews visit the Reviews page on TheBurlingtonFiles website or see other independent reviews on your local Amazon website and check out Bill Fairclough's background on the web.

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