**spoiler alert** Opens with British agent Leamus watching his East German contact get gunned down at the Berlin wall, the latest in a series of fatal...more**spoiler alert** Opens with British agent Leamus watching his East German contact get gunned down at the Berlin wall, the latest in a series of fatalities and failures. Leamus becomes involved in a secret program to bring down Mundt, head of East German intelligence, which requires long term playacting that is wonderful to read. He falls in love. He discovers that he is a pawn in a meaningless game.
A deeply melancholy account of spying. Smiley's brief appearances are mysterious and ultimately dismaying. (less)
Sallis reveals the story of Driver, this dude who used to stunt drive for movies but then switches to driving getaway vehicles for group heists, using...moreSallis reveals the story of Driver, this dude who used to stunt drive for movies but then switches to driving getaway vehicles for group heists, using careful flashbacks and exactly enough description. Manages to feel both taut and melancholy. An interesting and readable exercise in style. (less)
Reacher assists a secret service agent and dead brother's ex to foil a plot to assassinate the vice president. Typically rad. Interesting to find out...moreReacher assists a secret service agent and dead brother's ex to foil a plot to assassinate the vice president. Typically rad. Interesting to find out details of how the Secret Service works, details that I am too lazy to verify by looking up elsewhere, but will propagate in casual conversation. (less)
I don't think I have the stomach to finish this series, though I do think it is excellent. This one got so brutal and relentlessly depressing and anxi...moreI don't think I have the stomach to finish this series, though I do think it is excellent. This one got so brutal and relentlessly depressing and anxiety inducing that I had to skim the last two thirds and then read the wikipedia entry to fill in the holes. Then I sat bummed out for hours. Explores the political decisions, individual motivations, and emotional experiences involved in slavery and genocide. Every 20-30 pages contains some maddening instance of a powerful person using misinformation and violence to achieve his/her own ends.
At least as suspenseful as the Hunger Games, though the setting stays scrubby the whole way through. The dystopian world is a tidy parallel to the Mas...moreAt least as suspenseful as the Hunger Games, though the setting stays scrubby the whole way through. The dystopian world is a tidy parallel to the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
Is it the human condition to always have a few crazies among us, grabbing all the power and ruining everything for everyone else, especially ladies? If you have ever wondered and despaired at this, this book is for you. (less)
**spoiler alert** A spy thriller written in 1979, set in 1972, with flashbacks to the 1940s. Would not recommend for those sensitive to flamboyant gen...more**spoiler alert** A spy thriller written in 1979, set in 1972, with flashbacks to the 1940s. Would not recommend for those sensitive to flamboyant gender, cultural, or racial stereotypes. Tremendously enjoyed the first half of this, in which we learn the history and myth surrounding Nicholai Hel, international man of mystery, and target of concern for the CIA and OPEC.
Who is Nicholai Hel? Hel is the product of: --generations of European aristocratic "selective breeding" that have given him substantial physical, intellectual, and psychic abilities (rather than deformities or genetic diseases) --an early childhood spent learning abstract math and languages from tutors during the day and capering around the anything-goes streets of Hong Kong at night --A decade or so of intensive Go study with some of the best Japanese players in the world: "what Go is to philosophers and warriors, chess is to accountants and merchants" (73) --Gross American mishandling of his and his father figure's bodily integrity --Three years of solitary confinement during which he meditates, perfects his five languages, becomes fluent in Basque, stays quick and whipcord lean --Many more years practicing the fine art of doing it with hundreds of ladies until he's at "Stage IV" of doing it--the highest level you can get --Decades of recreational caving, which is like mountain climbing but even more horrible and stressful --Decades of lucrative terrorist activity during the 50s-60s, not much discussed in the book --an avowed commitment to living according to the Japanese concept of Shibumi. But the end of the book, I still did not understand Shibumi, or how the occasionally peevish and frequently arrogant/condescending/insulting Hel embodied it. Here's a definition: "shibumi has to do with great refinement underlying commonplace appearances. It is is a statement so correct that it does not have to be bold, so poignant it does not have to pretty, so true it does not have to be real. Shibumi is understanding, rather than knowledge. Eloquent silence. In demeanor, it is modesty without pudency. In art, where the spirit of form of sai, it is elegant simplicity, articulate brevity. In philosophy, where shibumi emerges as wabi, it is spiritual tranquility that is not passive; it is being without the angst of becoming. And in the personality of a man, it is... Authority without domination"
So yeah, Hel is a great character and the book tells his origin story in a very fun way. I loved the character of General Kishikawa, the scenes of Hel's early bureaucratic life in Tokyo, the torture and prison chapter. But other things I did not like -- as sympathetic as I can be to critical reflection on America, the numerous ones in this book are not as smart as Trevanian perhaps thought they were. Worse, the evaluations were not earned or substantiated, even by the fabricated events in the book. They were moments of jarringly bitter self-seriousness within a romp of lively caricatures. (less)
A third of the way through, had to force myself to slow down so I could prolong the thrill of reading this as long as possible. Distills the themes, c...moreA third of the way through, had to force myself to slow down so I could prolong the thrill of reading this as long as possible. Distills the themes, cultural preoccupations, and style of Power of the Dog into something more surface brash and cool and deepdown critical and nihilistic. The drug war between Mexico's Tijuana Cartel and the US federal government is again the context, only this story takes place in the almost immediate present, post-Obama election and deep during the recession. Not that the main characters are experiencing much economic hardship themselves, nearly all of them absurdly wealthy from their involvement with the drug trade. But they get theirs too, in spectacularly violent ways.
Have to admit that I was totally seduced by the heroic trio of Chon, Ben, and [Multiple:] O while reading this, though I should know better, and so should've Winslow! The book's silly last sentence indicates that he fell a little too in love with his characters, I think. Ben & Chons precocious world weariness grates in retrospect, and Winslow again paints women as only being as interesting as they are fuckable (O's omnivoracious nymphomania, Elena Lauter's MILF status carefully noted). But still, but still... you can see why it would be tempting to think of people in this way... (less)