I’m ‘reading’ this as an audiobook. Again thanks to a, hopefully temporary, optic nerve infection, which is making it almost impossible to see, let alone read anything.
I’m just over half way now and it is very, very good. A full and varied story, with a clear path and plenty of incident. I’ll have more to say at some point in the future, hopefully coinciding with the return of my vision.
Reading Grail Knight by Angus Donald
View on Path
I’ve read a few dry runs over the last few months, but this is at last, the real deal. A modern spy thriller with enough background depth, invention, style and substance to stand comparison with some of the besr of yester-year. A real page-turner and not loaded down with blather and unnecessary flannel. Speaking of which, this is quite probably the novel the reviewers quoted on the backs of recent Charles Cummings books thought they were reading. Their quotes of fulsome praise could be grafted onto the back cover of Ratcatcher and not cause any embarrassment to either party.
Ratcatcher is how a spy, or espionage thriller really should be. Old fashioned in attitude, in the way the story is approached, modern in execution (this is just my way of thinking, I’m perfectly prepared to be led off in the old straitjacket to the funny farm if enough of you disagree). Old fashioned but modern as well, in that several of the enemies are Russian. The Iron Curtain has been bought by the oligarcs, I suppose. If reviewers then, are going to throw words like ‘John‘ and ‘Le‘ and ‘Carre‘ about, they might as well get it right and throw them in the direction of excellent books like Ratcatcher and not half-baked efforts like ‘A Spy By Nature’ and the larger part of ‘A Foreign Country.’
So, the ‘Ratcatcher‘ of the title, is the main man of the book, one John Purkiss. He works for the British Secret Services and catches ‘dirty’ spies. Dirty ‘rats.’ Those spies who aren’t playing by the rules. Though of course, that would seem to me to be rule number one in the spy handbook – not to play by the rules. Oh, well. Anyway, a former highly placed British spy, ‘Fallon’, has gone rogue and gone missing, unbeknown to Purkiss, who thinks he’s in prison for killing Purkiss’ ex-fiancée (a rather traumatic event for Purkiss, as he witnessed it). Fallon suddenly appears, photographed on the streets of the Estonian capital Talinn. Interest is piqued, because it is the eve of a historic Estonian/Russian summit, where the respective Presidents are to meet and seal an agreement. Along with Fallon, there also surfaces a really rather unsettling rumour of a plan to disrupt said historic summit in a way that could plunge Europe, along with most of the rest of the world, back into the dark days of the afore-mentioned Cold War.
Purkiss as a lead character felt fully-realised and with a past and motive for the present that was plausible, believable and above all, interesting. Actually, the book as a whole reminded me of Jon Stock’s books and his lead character Daniel Marchant. And that’s a good thing. I think Jon Stock would have probably gone a little more balls-out in the final conclusion, but Ratcatcher is probably the better for not doing so.
‘Ratcatcher’ is a really rather excellent, well planned, well worked and thoroughly enjoyable thriller. There are plenty of twists and unforseen turns to lift it above a lot of the ones I read which fall back on the unlikely use of technology to paper over what was achieved in the good old days with nous, leg-work, chalk marks on the wall, or even just ‘gut-feelings.’ Whilst no one actually says “you bastard, Regan (or Purkiss)”, it felt sometimes like they might have wanted to. Tim Stevens is clearly a writer who knows his way round a spy thriller, and a writer I will look forward to reading a lot more of in the future.
Reading The Small Boat Of Great Sorrows by Dan Fesperman
View on Path
Reading Swords of Good Men by Snorri Kristjansson
View on Path
“The truth, it struck him, was like that, revealing itself, if at all, only by its effect on something else.”
How good is this book? Let me count the ways…etc.
Beautifully written, a wonderful evocation of a much maligned and partially forgotten time – apart from those who lived through it, I guess – and tense and thrilling and intriguing and all that and more.
The period between the two great Wars (in Europe I should perhaps hasten to add) has interested me for a number of years now and is reflected in many of the books I read. I’m talking the period from, say, 1919, to 1940 (I know WWII started in 1939, but there was at least a feeling of it ‘all being over by Christmas’, for at least a year). I think it began when I read a book called ‘Forgotten Voices of The Holocaust’ (by Lyn Smith) about Jewish people’s recollections of their lives before and of course during, the Second World War. I was maybe somewhat strangely, most affected by their descriptions of how their lives were in Europe, that is to say Germany and Eastern Europe, before and in the early years of the rise of Nazism and Hitler. A quite – for me – overwhelming sense of loss of promise and innocence, described by the people themselves in a matter of fact way. They describe their lives and you, the reader, get this overwhelming feeling of sadness at what was lost, the potential their lives held and all that they, and we, lost. Of course, we now know what happened after the incidents and memories they describe and the feeling is almost physical, the coming of Nazism and the war is a huge black cloud on the horizon. Unstoppable and moving towards us as we read their words. But the sunlight before the storm, the quiet and the innocence of the lives and times described, is what really intrigued me. I knew (as much as I can ‘know’ without having been there) about what happened in WWI and more about what happened in WWII, but the period I between, away from the events surrounding the Nazi party and its rise to power, were a mystery to me. And still are. I guess I’m trying to pin down and experience the ordinary person’s feelings Was it a ‘thank god that’s over, thank god we’ll never have to go through that again. It’s all alright, it’s going to be better now.’ Seems like it should have been. That must have been the feeling that existed in many parts of Europe, for Jews and non-Jews. For how long? On the face of it and taking the stock market crash into consideration, the best part of 10 to 15 years. It’s a feeling I’m after, a mood and an atmosphere, nothing physical, I don’t want to collect artifacts. I want to get the mood absorbed. Luckily there are many great books dealing with this period. To that list, I’m adding The Ways of the World.
The quote at the top, describes how the book works, I think. On the face of it, a simple problem. The father of a couple of landed gentry gentlemen has died in Paris in 1919 and the two brothers have to go over, complete the paperwork and bring their father’s body back for burial. But how did he die? Was he killed. If so, why? One brother feels the need to find out, the other doesn’t see why. Better for the family and the smooth hand-over of family power (to him) if there’s a quick resolution to the French Police’s investigation,with no awkward questions asked. So life can go on in its time-honoured, thoroughly stiff upper lipped, British way. Luckily for us, with the brothers’ arrival in Paris, the story starts unfolding, like unravelling a piece of origami. from what it is, to what it was. That’s my go at describing how the story happens. New avenues and ideas appear as the logic is followed. He died. How? he fell? Where? He jumped? But how could he have got in a position to just jump? So, was he pushed? Slowly unfolding and unfurling and revealing its plot, the book takes us forwards, sometimes a little backwards in the timeline of the family. We’re constantly moving, but almost without seeming to. It is written with such elegance and poise, teasing out the facts necessary to understand – even solve – the plot, that you read it almost mesmerised, but never alienated, by the subtle cleverness. Read it yourself, see if I’m right.
What it’s also about, I dare say, is the start of the modern spy industry. The change-over from being a great game, played by well-off aristocratic gentlemen with largely nothing else to do but indulge themselves in games they could afford, to the modern nitty-gritty, down and dirty selling of state secrets, ruthless spy masters and the ideologic espionage world we know from the second world- and cold- wars.
I wasn’t familiar with Robert Goddard’s work before this book and I think, from looking at his website, this is the first of his to be not set in the here and now. The Ways of the World was a stunningly good read and an absolutely wonderful way to start my 2014 book reading.
High flying, high finance, high society, high jinx. Low down dirty double-crossing dirty tricks. That’s what you expect from a Bourne thriller – and that’s exactly what Eric Van Lustbader delivers. Time and time again.
I like these ‘Bourne’ thrillers so much, that I am able to forgive almost anything that does – or sometimes doesn’t – happen in them. I’m even prepared to (well, almost prepared, I suppose I should say) overlook the constant ‘punching in’ of telephone numbers. One just doesn’t punch a number in. No. Anyway…
‘Imperative’ begins (well, a little bit after the beginning really) with fishing a man with memory loss and no identification out of the water. This time though, in contrast to the first ever Bourne book, it’s Jason B., doing the fishing. Story moves on and the shocks and thrills mount and it soon turns out that (even) the President of the USA wants Bourne dead. I suppose you know you’re really up against it when the good ol’ POTUS wants you dead, eh? The rest of the story? Well, there’s not much you need to know, except it delivers. We have Russians, the Israelis – in the form of Mossad (as friends and foes) – Mexican drug lords and more. You can pick it up, but don’t expect to be able to put it down again anytime soon. I seem to have read this one a little out of sequence, but it really doesn’t matter. Enough of the whys and wherefore’s are explained to make it all readable without having read the previous, and without getting in the way of the enjoyment of the present.
Otherwise? You can tell the English character – he’s the one calling people ‘mate’ in every other sentence. Mexico City is both a whirlpool and has a beating heart inside the same paragraph. Yeah, I guess I’m willing to overlook those as well.
If you want a book that keeps you on your toes the whole time, where you should always expect the unexpected, then this is more how a good thriller should be than many you’ll read. Confusing yet intriguingly interesting at the start, as the pieces are assembled , then becoming clearer in the middle as the pieces fall into pace for Bourne – and you. As the problem becomes clearer, possible solutions pop up, on the page for Bourne and in your head. I like that in a book. And I’m pretty sure this is the kind of thriller the people quoted on the backs of Charles Cummings books think they’ve been reading.
Martyr is a really good, well worked, evocative and thoroughly convincing journey back to the late 16th Century Elizabethan England and the time of Shakespeare. John Shakespeare, actually. Will’s older brother. John isn’t an actor or playwright, he’s a detective. Though this is of course set before there was a Police force, he is more of a private detective, working for the Lord Walsingham trying to keep England, and in particular Good Queen Bess, safe from the threat – real and imagined – from Philip the King of Spain, his armada, Catholics in general, the Inquisition and traitors of an assorted, generally foreign, nature.
In the aftermath of the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots, Shakespeare starts investigating the really rather grisly murder of a young women, who may or may not have been mixed up in intrigues she probably shouldn’t have been mixed up in. Shakespeare is on legitimate Royal business, but even so it’s not all plain sailing. Shakespeare has unwanted competition in his investigation. Everywhere his investigation takes him, he seems to be one step behind the unscrupulous and ruthless Richard Topcliffe. A man with his own private rack down in the family torture chamber is to be avoided at all costs, especially but not necessarily, if you’re a Catholic. Topcliffe has his own agenda and has dressed up petty ruthless revenge in ‘I’m doing the Queen’s business more than you are’, Royal finery.
England has been and is whipped up into a frenzy of Catholic-hating and traitors, real or imagined, are around every corner, under every bed, in every house or country pile, either murdering people in most foul ways or hiding for days in their stinking priest holes. And there is a plot to murder England’s potential hero of the hour, Sir Francis Drake. The thought, unspoken but felt by all is, that if he dies, England will be open to Spanish – and even worse, Catholic – invasion.
Clements does a really good job of evoking the mood and the tension of the period. As well as conveying the all suspicion and noble ends to justify really rather unpleasant means. And while on the subject of unpleasant – we get shown around the stinking streets of London, into the veritable hell-holes and corrupt pits that were Elizabethan prisons, and a tour across the south of England down to Plymouth in a desperate race against time to rescue Sir Francis Drake. Mostly to rescue him from himself, it has to be said. As a character, John Shakespeare is perhaps a little too idealistic, even naive for his time. Which makes him a thoroughly likeable character for our time, even if like-ability was necessary – he is brother to William for goodness’ sake! Worth reading about for that alone (I know he’s made it up, btw).
If you wanted to look outside the confines of the book and see where the themes are today. It is in the suspicion of people’s with a different culture to ours’, who do things differently and also have the temerity to think they’re right, have God on their side and we’re wrong. You can see it in your newses every day, can’t you? Even ‘Catch 22′, sometimes – as in the thoughts of how far is it needed to go to show your loyalty. If loyalty is behind the means, does it excuse the means? Can you be more loyal because you are prepared to be more ruthless? Does hesitancy through decency and humanity, show weakness? Fortunately – for those locked up these days, the prison system is a little better, certainly cleaner, and your well-being while inside doesn’t depend (entirely) on how much money you can pay the gaoler to keep the other prisoners off your back and your hands out of the thumbscrews.
I didn’t know at the time of reading, but Martyr is apparently the first in Clements’ series of novels about his fictional detective and brother to William, John Shakespeare. And this bodes very well for the series. I’ll be reading them.