I was raised in a commercial fishing community. I spent most of five years of my childhood on a fish tender. I live on the Kenai Peninsula and for the...moreI was raised in a commercial fishing community. I spent most of five years of my childhood on a fish tender. I live on the Kenai Peninsula and for the past seven Septembers I've fished for silvers in the Kenai River. (One year for a brief, magical moment I had a king on. It was like hooking onto a bolt of lightning.) Like everyone else on the Kenai I fight the traffic the last two weeks of July when dipnetting season is open. My cousin Hank is a commercial fisherman in Cordova. There have been five kinds of salmon in abundance all around me all of my life.
In this book, David Montgomery says that that abundance could all end in my lifetime. The Atlantic salmon is already down for the count, in Europe and in Canada and the northeastern United States. Almost exactly the same cycle is in evidence on the Pacific Northwest. "Our modern salmon crisis is a strikingly faithful retelling of the fall of Atlantic salmon in Europe, Montgomery writes, "and again later in eastern North America." Today, the salmon runs of California are all but extinct with the runs in Oregon and Washington too close behind.
Factors influencing salmon abundance, Montgomery writes, are often generalized into four H's: harvest, hydropower (dams), habitat, and hatcheries. Often overlooked is a fifth H: history. Learning from the past is important for public policy, particularly if policies have objectives such as the protection of rate and endangered species, or if policy failure irreversibly leads to extinction...It is sobering to think that salmon could take the worst nature could throw at them for millions of years--from floods to volcanic eruptions--but that little more than a century of exposure to the side effects of Western civilization could drive them to the edge of extinction.
By harvest Montgomery means overfishing. Right now in Cook Inlet commercial setnetters are fighting with sports fishermen over the king salmon run up the Kenai River, which run has dropped to the point that king sportsfishing has been banned on the river for the last two years. In the meantime out in the Gulf of Alaska and in the Bering Sea fish processors are dragging up the bottom of the north Pacific Ocean, where those kings go to feed before coming home again to spawn the next generation. Those processors are fishing for pollock. Kings are just bycatch to them.
By hydropower he means dams. There are over 70,000 dams in North America, including the ones on the Columbia and Snake Rivers which killed their salmon runs. Right now the state of Alaska wants to build a 735-foot dam on the Susitna River. The dam backers say that Devil's Canyon, downstream of the proposed dam, acts as a natural impediment to salmon migration. Does it? Are there no salmon runs upriver of the dam site? The dam, when built, could furnish almost half the needed power to railbelt Alaskans. Do we just cross our fingers and build the dam and hope for the best?
By habitat, Montgomery is talking about the degradation of the rivers and streams to which salmon return each year. We've been clearing these waterways of the deadfall that protect the gravel spawning beds, we've been straightening out waterways to make them more convenient for travel and shipping, and we've been developing riverbanks for suburban homes and golf courses which comes with a whole host of problems, not least of which is the grass fertilizer that runs off into and toxifies the spawning habitat (a big problem in Hawaii, too, ask anyone who has ever flown into the islands after a big storm and seen the brown runoff encircling the shores). Montgomery writes
In the end, the degree to which society is willing to give space back to rivers will define the degree to which rivers can recover.
How willing are we? Good question, and one we should spend some time answering, but mostly all we do is fight with each other, commercial fisherman against sports fisherman, developer against preservationist.
Particularly on controversial issues [writes Montgomery] any consensus that satisfies all stakeholders will ultimately sell out the salmon. So reliance on local control and voluntary measures needs to be guided by an overriding strategy that is guaranteed and enforced by a higher authority.
Ask the Kenai River Sportsfishing Association and the United Cook Inlet Drift Association how that's been working out for them. These people can't even talk to each other without raising their voices, and in the meantime more kings vanish from the river every year.
Hatcheries? Don't work. Artificially created runs do not repopulate themselves, and in the meantime they're competing with natural runs for food and weakening the natural salmon by interbreeding with them. (They also don't taste near as good.)
"Salmon, writes Montgomery
...are resilient, robust animals that can rapidly colonize new environments. They are more like weeds than like a sensitive bird that can only nest in a special type of tree that occurs in a particular type of forest in a couple of places on earth. Even so, we are managing to drive them to the verge of extinction across much of their range.
In the 1960s, Lowell Wakefield single-handedly started the king crab fishing industry in the Gulf of Alaska. Then, the king crab season started on August 1st and ended on May 31st. I know, as a teenager I worked for pocket money at Wakefield's in Seldovia. In the 1980s the king crab stocks crashed due to overfishing. Now, the king crab season is ten days in October, or however long it takes to meet their quota. I used to eat king crab fresh out of the water one or two times a week in season. Today, I haven't seen anything but frozen in years.
It's too late for the Atlantic salmon, Montgomery says. It's almost too late for the salmon runs of the western United States. Nevertheless, he says, we should try to save them.
One of those books you read in one sitting with the hair slowly rising on the back of your neck. Slavery in the American South seldom has seemed so re...moreOne of those books you read in one sitting with the hair slowly rising on the back of your neck. Slavery in the American South seldom has seemed so real or so horrific. Every awful story you've ever heard or read is right here, seen through the eyes of Sarah, the master's daughter by Emmeline, his slave mistress. I couldn't help but think of Sally Hemings, in durance vile to Thomas Jefferson for her whole life and forced to bear not one but eight of his children, all of them property and subject to sale whenever the master needed ready cash to buy a few more books.
The most painful thing to endure among many is Emmeline's persistent terror, the fear she feels every moment of every day that Sarah will say something that will get them all killed or worse, sold. "Don't say that, baby," is her constant refrain, and it doesn't take long for you to feel her fear, too. It's exhausting, and it is debilitating to intellect and human emotion, and that's just from reading about it. What was it like to live through it? I'm grateful I can only imagine.
Things are bad enough at Allen House, where Cornelius sells Belle, Emmeline's other daughter, to punish Emmeline for leaving his bed. The rape scene leaves me, as such scenes always do, not only nauseated but bewildered as to how men can do these things and look themselves in the mirror the next morning. This was two college kids down from the North for a spree. They use these girls like Kleenex. They're the ethnic cleansers in Bosnia-Hercegovinia. They're Boko Haram. And when spring break is over, off they go back to Harvard and I'm sure later become giants of industry and pillars of their communities.
And from this Eden of the Allen plantation Cornelius gives his white daughter his black daughter as a wedding gift and they travel to Clarissa's new husband's home, where of course things are impossibly even worse. Clarissa, who has to be one of the most clueless women in literature, loses no time in exacerbating their situation by idiotically bad behavior, and Sarah is forced to run, although she was always going to run anyway.
Sarah's narrative is interspersed with excerpts from the journal of Theodora, Cornelius' wife. One of the most hideous passages is the conversation Theodora has with her friend, Mrs. Tutwiler, about Cornelius fathering Sarah.
"My dear, these men are such rascals, and I fear that their decadence will be the ruin of us all. But what can we do? We can ask them to change their ways for the sake of their immortal souls, and we may appeal to their sense of duty, but don't you believe that a male is innately a different being than a woman? We do not have their uncontrollable urges, after all. We are most interested in pursuing what is beautiful and ethereal, not what is physical and coarse. Dear Theo, your husband isn't the only one; Mr. Tutwiler, by my count, has at least eight children, with field hands, no less. But if when you add eight to the balance sheet at the prices they fetch at auction, when you reflect upon it it is a benefit to us, is it not?"
Rape as a method of improving the bottom line. Such rascals, indeed. Slavery didn't just enslave a race, it dumbed down a gender, too. When Theodora finds her grandson, she won't even take him out of the orphanage to live with her. Of her lover she writes, "...It did not matter to me what they said, however, because no one could have forced me to stop, and I knew that widowhood shielded me from societal censure." For her lover, but not her grandson. I won't spoil, but at the ending of this book it is impossible to judge Sarah's sins as any worse than Theodora's.
The Civil War never looked so necessary. A difficult but essential read.
Another pulse-pounder from Hunter, although there is an underlying sense of hilarity to the motivation of the Big Bad--keeping Japanese porn Japanese....moreAnother pulse-pounder from Hunter, although there is an underlying sense of hilarity to the motivation of the Big Bad--keeping Japanese porn Japanese. A lot about samurai history, culture and swords, which almost becomes tedious, but not quite. My favorite scene isn't action--unless it's purely cerebral--it's when Bob Lee shows Okada-san just how thoroughly he used her tail to wag the dog. And good for him, too.(less)
The best in this series to date. Not only does Robertson create a plot that credibly entangles every member of the Harriet and Gabriel ménage, it give...moreThe best in this series to date. Not only does Robertson create a plot that credibly entangles every member of the Harriet and Gabriel ménage, it gives a searing and very human portrait of the issue of slavery in late Georgian England. I hope Francis shows up in future books, and Mr. Christopher, too.(less)
Very well-written and a breakneck plot, but very grim and very dark. Good guys and bad, they're all flawed to a greater or lesser degree, and the wome...moreVery well-written and a breakneck plot, but very grim and very dark. Good guys and bad, they're all flawed to a greater or lesser degree, and the women are one-dimensional and uninteresting.(less)
I wish I liked this book more. It has so much going for it, not least the illustrated marginalia. The problem is the long interpolatory story about T....moreI wish I liked this book more. It has so much going for it, not least the illustrated marginalia. The problem is the long interpolatory story about T.S.'s great-grandmother, which I suppose is one way to eat up a train ride across the U.S., but which reads like a big, indigestible expository lump dumped down in the middle of the narrative that totally knocks the main story -- T.S.'s -- off its tracks. If the story had concentrated on T.S's journey alone, on his relationships with his brother and sister and mom and dad, it would have been a much better book.
Retired sniper Bob Lee Swagger (if ever there was an onomatopoeic name) gets a call from journalist friend Kathy Reilly, who is writing a story on a R...moreRetired sniper Bob Lee Swagger (if ever there was an onomatopoeic name) gets a call from journalist friend Kathy Reilly, who is writing a story on a Russian female sniper in World War II called the White Witch. The scene shifts to World War II and the sniper herself, along with her boss and her target. As her story unfolds in alternate chapters, we follow Bob and Kathy in the present day as they rediscover her story, one of love and war and fanaticism and betrayal, with front row seats to battles that will leave your eyes watering from the smoke of the guns. Man, can this guy write shoot-outs. The best one is in the present day between Bob and Kathy and those who would really they rather not find out the truth about the White Witch, thanks, which ambush echoes on a smaller scale the one that happened sixty years before. Both are nail-bitingly realistic. Hunter can plot, too, but I won't spoil. Every ending in this book (I think there are about six but I lost count) will make you alternately gasp and cheer. This is the book Robert Ludlum only wished he could write.
I bought Sniper's Honor at the recommendation of the Poisoned Pen's Book News, and I tell you true, when I saw that there were Nazis in it I almost threw the book across the room. I'm so gawdalmighty tired of books with Nazis in them (and books about the US Civil War, but that's another whine). I am so glad I didn't. Every single German in this book is a real human being, even the monsters, and it goes without saying that all the characters, upstanders like Bob and Kathy and weasels like Jerry are great, too. I personally think this book is worth reading for the conversations between Karl and Wili alone.
I was surprised to learn that Sniper's Honor is ninth in this series. Why? Because it's so damn good. Nine books in, a lot of series' authors lose orbit and start to wander off character development, scene setting and complex narrative, sometimes even getting lazy in their writing. None of that here, vide
It was better not to pay too much attention to the machine or the men flying it. After all, what difference did it make? Knowing the pilot's name and what he called his airplane didn't matter. The airplane would get her there or not, depending on a thousand factors over which she had no control. The Germans would shoot it down or they would not; they would have already taken the landing site or they would not have; the pilot found the right site or he did not. None of it had anything to do with her. She could not let herself invest emotion in the idea of this preposterous little kite being night-navigated to a tiny landing field on a mountain plateau surrounded on all sides by peaks and lit only by torchlight.
One of the halls turned to the Germans and exhibited uniforms, weapons, communication gear, boots, all of it safely behind glass. Swagger stared at a dummy SS man in the spotty-leopard dapple of the late-war camouflage-pattern smock, heavy jackboots, with an MP-40 in his hands and all the right equipment in place, the bread bag, the entrenching tool, a holstered Luger, a foot of wicked bayonet, the haversack, that instantly recognizable helmet with the medieval steel flare that covered the ears and back of the neck and made every Landser somehow look like a Teutonic knight out to slaughter the inferior.
He and his three co-killers slipped off their rifles and put their helmets on the ground. each removed a gravity knife from a pocket, and with the push of a lever and a flick of the wrist, each popped four inches of the best Sollinger steel--Rostfrei, it said on the blade--into the cool air of morning...Each, as a matter of fact, hated knifework. It was awful. It was always intimate and messy and left regret and depression and self-loathing. It wasn't worth going through for any nutcase paperhanger from Austria, that was for sure, but only out of duty to some other thing, variously defined as the Fatherland or Greater Germany but really just the other guys in the unit, whom you didn't want to let down.
I have never been a soldier but I know, I KNOW that every word of this narrative about soldiers rings absolutely true. And Hunter's women are badasses to behold
"That premise is no longer operative. You're fighting for your reasons. You're in love with Mili, you old coot, don't say you're not, and it's the best fight you ever had. Well, I'm fighting for mine, which is that no asshole comes along and says, 'Sweetie, do us a favor and don't write the story.' I will write the story, if I have to be Mili Petrova to do it. Nobody tells me to go away like a good little girl. I was never a good little girl. Good little girls don't become reporters. Besides, the story's already on the budget."
Lemme hear you say YEAH!
Sniper's Honor should be held up as a template for anyone who ever thought they wanted to write action adventure. Highly recommended, especially if you want a good cardiovascular workout.(less)
More of a short story than a novel, I would recommend this only for Mary Stewart completionists and those who are traveling to Lanzarote. Her descript...moreMore of a short story than a novel, I would recommend this only for Mary Stewart completionists and those who are traveling to Lanzarote. Her descriptions of the landscape of these volcanic islands are as immediate and evocative as anything she ever wrote about Crete or Corfu.(less)
This book, to borrow a phrase from John le Carre, wears many hats upon its head. First, it's a word picture of publishing as it used to be, or at leas...moreThis book, to borrow a phrase from John le Carre, wears many hats upon its head. First, it's a word picture of publishing as it used to be, or at least was sometime, somewhere, and coincidentally and I think even inadvertently a parallel portrait of working women post-war. The first half is a personal narrative of Athill's life as an editor, and the second remembrances of individual writers she edited, the most compelling (and appalling) chapter of which is on Jean Rhys*.
The story began with my father telling me: 'You will have to earn your living.'
she writes, and then goes on to fill in her background, one of privileged, upper class English country life filled with horses and books. She fell passionately in love in her teens with a young British officer who then dumped her, which experience she says scarred her emotionally for life. Sorry if I sound a little skeptical here, but really, she was 17 years old when her doomed romance commenced. Get over it, kid.
Which she mostly did. She attended Oxford, worked for the BBC in London during World War II, after which she fell into bed with Andre Deutsch. They had a brief affair and she went on to work for him at his start-up publishing house, and later became a director at the eponymous Andre Deutsch publishing house, where she hated the business side and loved the editing side. She must have loved it, because her salary never got above 20,000 pounds a year (or about $35,000 USD, when the company was sold in 1993). There's some specious reasoning going on
I have been asked by younger women how I brought myself to accept this situation so calmly...one can of course, always walk away. That I could easily have done, and never thought of doing; so I doubt that it was only the mixed vanity and lack of confidence of the brainwashed female which held me there in acceptance of something which I knew to be unjust and which other women, whom I admired, were beginning actively to confront...Obviously it is true that indifference to status and pay is not found in all women, but I have seen it in a good many who, like me, enjoyed their work.
I bet they were all her age, too. Athill is rather buttering both sides of her bread here, and the fact that she feels compelled to comment speaks for itself, but what the hell. During those 50-odd slave labor years she edited the novels of among many others the aforesaid Jean Rhys, V.S. Naipal, Brian Moore, Mordecai Richler, and helped publish many American authors, like Philip Roth, John Gardener, and Jack Kerouac. It wasn't always a privilege and all too often sounds like something out of Co-Dependent No More. There is some fascinating detail on the individual editing process
I shall now describe what was certainly the most absorbing of all the tasks that came my way: working with Gitta Sereny on Into That Darkness, which we published in 1974...
In 1967 she was commissioned by the Daily Telegraph to write a series of pieces about West Germany, including the Nazi crime trials then taking place. She was present at the trial of Franz Stangl who had been Kommandant of Treblinka, one of the four extermination (as opposed to concentration) camps in German-occupied Poland, and who was sentenced to life imprisonment for co-responsibility in the murder of 900,000 people in that camp...She was allowed to visit Stangl in prison and talked with him for many hours over six weeks...we asked Gitta to come to the office and discuss the possibility of a book...
No reading I have ever done has shaken me as much...Having seen the film of Belsen made when the Allies got there I thought I knew the nature of what had been done; but of course I didn't. Groping my way into the history of this ordinary, efficient, ambitious, uxorious Austrian policeman...was intensely interesting, but frightening because I knew where it was going. And then it got there.
...one editorial decision I was able to make then and there: we must use no adjectives--or very few. Words such as 'horrifying,' 'atrocious,' 'tragic,' terrifying' -- they shrivelled [sic] like scraps of paper thrown into a blazing fire.
It's not often you think of the first reader of the book you hold in your hands. Also, please note, Ms. Athill can write. She suffers agonies over an edit to one of V.S. Naipal's novels, decides to tell him he has to change it, he leaves Andre Deutsch in a huff and then returns a month later because his new publisher calls him a "West Indian novelist" in their catalog. If I'm reading Athill right, she regrets insisting on the edit. WTF? She was doing her job, Naipul was most definitely not doing his. I have heard stories of the ego and vanity of my own contemporaries in their relationships with their publishers, but it always comes as a shock to me, and it shocks me here, too.
She's a bit of a tease
We have now reached the second of my two shocking failures as an editor (I don't intend ever to confess the other one).
and a bit of a snob
...[Angela] Thirkell is embarrassing -- I always knew that, but would have published her, given the chance, because she was so obviously a selle., And [Virgina] Woolf, whom I revered in my youth, now seems almost moree embarrassing because the claims made for her were so high...that self-consciously 'beautiful' writing, all those adjectives -- oh dear!
but she remains a stout advocate of good writing and of getting it published. Of course, this means her definition of good writing, not ours. She name drops a bunch of novels during this book so be warned, you'll be spending some time on bookfinder.com along the way.
*Reading Stet and Jean Rhys' Wide Sargasso Sea together would make for a great a book club discussion.(less)
My aunt gave me this book (along with Farley Mowat's Never Cry Wolf and Richard Halliburton's Royal Road to Romance), when I became a dedicated reader...moreMy aunt gave me this book (along with Farley Mowat's Never Cry Wolf and Richard Halliburton's Royal Road to Romance), when I became a dedicated reader at age eight. Recently I stumbled across a copy in a used book store. White was a contemporary of Zane Grey and Rex Beach and all those he-man dime-store novel-writing types, but they could never write women. White can. He also writes scenery and weather as well as Grey and characters better than Beach.
Here cowboy John Murdock woos and in a single day wins Oregonian schoolteacher Sarah Slowcum in 1895. They marry and their mutual itchy feet take them first to a lumber camp in the Cascades, on to Seattle, to ownership of a sailboat, which takes them to southeast Alaska, land of opportunity, where they at last come to roost. There is much humor, as in Sally's first fishing lesson
...the fish attended to his own striking. The very speed of his rush drove the hook home; and Sally found herself clasping desperately a rod that suddenly seemed charged with electricity, attached to a darting, diving, turning, jumping streak of sheer velocity that seemed everywhere at once; and married to an imbecile that leaped around back of her and implored her to reel in and let him run and sub him and keep the tip up and--in a shriek of agony--for God's sake not to give him any slack.
and on every other page some wonderful description of landscape and wildlife, as in Sally seeing her first salmon run
The pool was gray with fish, lying side by side, like wavering shadows. As she reached the bank a half-dozen or so, as thought on signal, detached themselves to rush the riffles. There the water was not deep enough to cover them, so that as they rose to the shallows their backs looked like emerged submarines. With so little purchase against the fast current, the rush must be determined. From their vibrating tails the water flew in white spray...At times, when the flow momentarily strengthened, hold the onrush posed and motionless. And then with a heart-bursting spurt of effort they tore themselves free. All but three. The direct line of their attack had brought them hurtling hard on against a wide spit of gravel...It seemed only too clear to her what would happen when they must turn: the pounce of the exacting waters; the frantic and despairing struggle; the final ignominious tumbling over and over down the rapids back to the lower pool.
and there are heroes like sourdough Len Saunders, John and Sally's fast friend, and villains like Pirate Kelly, with whom we get to see John throw down (squee!), Chilkat Harry, a child-man turned self-confessed monster when the drink is upon him, boomer Nels Cole, a recognizable figure in any Alaskan era, his man Ashley who does John wrong and atones for it and then some, and Annabelle, no better than she should be, which is very good indeed. Not forgetting Chilkat the dog, who I now wonder isn't a bit of an ancestor to Mutt.
This book was published in 1940 and it shows in places, but not in so many that you can't enjoy it for what it is, a pioneering adventure story about two well-matched, high-hearted heroes, set in a much less complicated time. It will take you there, and you will enjoy the visit.(less)
In England in 1953 Grace Fox is hung for poisoning her husband. In 2010 Hollywood composer Chris Lowndes returns to his Yorkshire birthplace and buys...moreIn England in 1953 Grace Fox is hung for poisoning her husband. In 2010 Hollywood composer Chris Lowndes returns to his Yorkshire birthplace and buys a house in Swaledale which once belonged to Grace, and becomes obsessed with finding out if Grace was guilty or innocent of the crime.
Before the Poison reads like an instant Golden Age classic crime novel, an unhurried, deliberate unraveling of a mystery paralleled by a long, slow reveal of the narrator's own motivation, told with a ratcheting up of tension that I found excruciatingly delicious. It is so well plotted, and the two narratives dovetail at the end so naturally, without a hint of contrivance. The scenes of Grace in World War II are devastatingly real. I wrote to Peter Robinson when I finished the book and he wrote back
I was talking about the book at Oxford yesterday, as part of the annual St Hild's Crime Weekend. Their theme was "Crimes of the Past: War and Other Evils" this year, and I was Guest of Honour, so I talked mostly about In a Dry Season and Before the Poison. One of the things I mentioned was how my fictionalised account of Grace's journal made its way to a woman of 99 in New Zealand who actually went through that experience on the life-raft and is still alive today! And approved of my version!
I always say that everything is personal and Robinson makes that manifest here. Chris' determination to discover the truth about Grace is so personal, and it rings so heartbreakingly true. Like Reginald Hill, Robinson writes about the Yorkshire landscape as if it is one of the characters, alive and beautiful and sometimes ferocious in the extreme. And I have to give a shout out to the wonderful title--Before the Poison. Perfect, however you parse it. You'll know why when you read the book. Highly recommended.
A man named Peanut escapes from prison in western China, where he has been incarcerated since 1989, and makes his way to present-day Beijing. There, h...moreA man named Peanut escapes from prison in western China, where he has been incarcerated since 1989, and makes his way to present-day Beijing. There, he gets in touch with British journalist Philip Mangan, whom he mistakes for the heir to his previous contact. Mangan, who isn't a spy, yet, is perfectly appalled, at first. When he passes the Peanut info on to someone he knows at the British Embassy, the scene shifts to London and SIS, where case officer Trish Patterson runs it up the food chain and discovers that Peanut may in fact be a Chinese asset who mysteriously disappeared over twenty years before and who is now the potential producer of vital information on current Chinese MIRV ballistic missile capability. In spite of himself Mangan, succumbing to the temptation to become part of the story instead of just reporting it, slips and slides into the shadow world of international espionage. It proves just as dangerous and as deadly to those around him, lovers, friends and strangers alike, as he at first suspected it would be.
Brookes stands on the shoulders of giants here. When Patterson goes to talk to Sonia, the Night Heron's old retired recruiter/handler, the scene is positively redolent of Smiley going to talk to Connie in Smiley's People
"We work our whole lives, don't we, looking for that shard of information, that secret, which has--what did we call it?--predictive value. A signpost. A precursor to understanding. And sometimes it's staring us in the face. And because it's not secret we ignore it...
She was tiring now, Patterson could see. "How did it end, Sonia?"
"I hardly know. We saw less and less of Peanut. The others seemed to lose interest...They all declared themselves for democracy. Poor loves..."
Either Adam Brookes has read a lot of John le Carre or British spies really do talk like this. Maybe both.
This is an old-fashioned spy novel going full gallop from Xinjiang to Beijing to Hong Kong to Seoul to London and back again. Knives are pulled, shots are fired, people die and governments sell out to their corporate masters, confirming all your worst suspicions about what's really going on behind today's headlines. A fun read, and I'd bet the first in series. Recommended. (less)
It's 1915, they're shifting from butter to guns in Europe, and British espionage is as yet only a twinkle in the British Navy's eye. They contract hir...moreIt's 1915, they're shifting from butter to guns in Europe, and British espionage is as yet only a twinkle in the British Navy's eye. They contract hire their spies, as in Jack McColl, a car salesman currently in the German-occupied part of China (a place I never knew existed until now). The Kaiser's men are soon on to him and chase him all the way to Shanghai and then to San Francisco, where the Indians and the Irish join the mix, a triumvirate that would set any British statesman's hair on fire. It's complicated, especially by Jack's involvement with an Irish-American journalist. From SFO we travel with Jack to New York City and on to Vera Cruz in Mexico, where the US is as usual stepping on its own dick in a sort of semi-invasion supported by the usual self-justifications and providing all kinds of opportunities for foreign powers to stick their noses in way too near our border. From there it's back to New York and on to England in a desperate attempt to avert an IRA attack on British troops.
Whew. If I were teaching World War I history, I'd assign this book along with Barbara Tuchman's The Proud Tower and The Guns of August. All the signs and portents are there, and this novel lends local color and light to almost all of them. Recommended.