I’ve always enjoyed espionage spy novels.
I recently read two new offerings by a couple of my favorite authors. THE SPIES OF WARSAW by Alan Furst, and A MOST WANTED MAN by John Le Carré.
THE SPIES OF WARSAW was particularly interesting for me since my own recently published espionage novel takes place in Poland, albeit in 1983 during the Cold War, but covers a lot of history and some of the period of the 1930s, where Furst’s novel takes place. It is the fall of 1937, and the world is stumbling towards War. Colonel Mercier, a former First World War officer in the French Army, is attached to the French Embassy in Warsaw, and is working diligently behind the scenes to avoid the conflict between Poland and Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany. The premise of the story is interesting, and historical facts are woven in cleverly, but perhaps because we know the inevitable failure of the efforts, I found the story less than gripping.
Apart from Colonel Mercier, the other characters appear to play bit parts. There is no back story, and we don’t get to know much about them. Nevertheless, much to my surprise, the book got rave reviews in the New York Times, and of course hit the bestseller list.
John Le Carré has always been one of my favorite authors. His intricate and complex stories coupled with his knowledge of espionage, justifiably earns him the reputation as the “spy master” novelist. His most recent novel, A MOST WANTED MAN, tackles the up-to-date terrorist threat of a Chechnyian Muslim mysteriously and illegally arriving in Hamburg Germany, ostensibly to start a new career. He seeks help from an idealistic young German lawyer who inevitably clashes with the authorities – police and counter-terrorism units.
As always with Le Carré, the characters are complex but interesting. However to me, the story was less than exciting, the ending somewhat predictable, and the action slow. Needless to say, however as with all Le Carré books, rave reviews and the bestseller lists were inevitable.
We can’t always expect our favorite authors to hit “home runs,” but it occurs to me that sequels, as in some of the movies, are often disappointing shadows of former successes. Well-established popular novelists sometimes have to do very little, to achieve rave reviews and bestseller success. It would be interesting to hear other views on this subject.