A cracking thriller with a tight, twisting plot. This reissue of Ira Levin's 1954 debut is an object lesson in how to write a tense and pacy crime/mysA cracking thriller with a tight, twisting plot. This reissue of Ira Levin's 1954 debut is an object lesson in how to write a tense and pacy crime/mystery novel, but more importantly it's an immensely enjoyable read. Highly recommended....more
The Spy who Came in from the Cold was John le Carré’s 'break-through' novel, the book that brought him international acclaim, and which Graham GreeneThe Spy who Came in from the Cold was John le Carré’s 'break-through' novel, the book that brought him international acclaim, and which Graham Greene hailed as the best spy novel he had ever read. But is it a book that has stood the test of time? For this reader the answer is a definite yes (despite some annoying typos in this edition).
Set in the early 1960s, soon after the Berlin Wall began to go up, The Spy who Came in from the Cold is the story of Alec Leamas, a British agent who is nearing the end of his career. Leamas runs the Berlin office but he has lost a number of agents recently. When one of his best agents tries to escape to the West, Leamas watches helplessly as the East German border guards gun him down at the checkpoint. Leamas is recalled to London, and thinks he has finally come in from the cold. But Control persuades him to undertake one final assignment, provided he is not too ‘fatigued’. The assignment is to bring down Mundt, the anti-Semitic head of East German Intelligence who was responsible for the deaths of his agents. Leamas agrees to the mission.
If Leamas were Bond he would now be kitted out with several clever gadgets and sent off to Berlin in a lounge suit and a sports car. But this is le Carré, not Fleming. Leamas’ cover is established over months. He is demoted, distrusted, disgraced. He turns to drink and is sacked. Embittered and impoverished, he reaches his lowest ebb when he is sent to jail for assaulting a grocer. When he is eventually released from prison he is ripe for recruitment by the other side – especially as along the way he had had an affair with Liz Gold, a Jewish girl who also happens to belong to the British Communist Party.
As with his earlier novels, le Carré expertly evokes the atmosphere of the times. The depiction of the seediness of early-sixties under-belly London reminded me very much of Patrick Hamilton’s depictions of 1930s under-belly London. But there’s the added tension of a tale of espionage, of double-cross, of not knowing who is telling the truth and who is lying. It is a murky world all right, full of amoral morality and self-justifying treachery. As everything falls into place in East Berlin, the full extent of the sordid truth gradually emerges.
This book is an undoubted page-turner, psychologically complex and layered with twists, and at the same time it explores some complex issues. Can political systems influence human nature? If the ‘good guys’ adopt the tactics of the ‘bad guys’ how can they still be the ‘good guys’? Do the ends really justify the means? At the root of it all, of course, is love and betrayal. Especially betrayal.
The blurb on the back quotes J. B. Priestley: ‘Superbly constructed, with an atmosphere of chilly hell.’ I would add that it is a terrific read, too. It really is the Carlsberg of espionage fiction: Probably the Best Spy Novel Ever Written.
The hero of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Mikael Blomkvist, is a financial journalist and Editor-in-Chief of his own magazine, Millennium. He has bThe hero of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Mikael Blomkvist, is a financial journalist and Editor-in-Chief of his own magazine, Millennium. He has built a strong reputation campaigning against corruption and the crooked practices of some of Stockholm's leading businessmen. However, the novel opens just as Blomkvist's latest exposé has ended in a disastrous court case and the journalist's reputation is in tatters.
He is given the opportunity to get out of Stockholm when he is offered a job by Henrik Vanger, a wealthy and powerful businessman. Ostensibly, the work involves writing the Vanger family history, but in reality Blomkvist has been commissioned to investigate the mysterious disappearance of Henrik's niece. Harriet Vanger disappeared forty years ago during a family gathering on secluded Hedeby Island. No one saw her leave the island, and no body was ever found, but Henrik is convinced Harriet was murdered by a member of his own dysfunctional family.
Running parallel to this scenario is the story of Lisbeth Salander, the eponymous Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, who is a surveillance agent for Milton Security and expert computer hacker. She is also legally incompetent, a vulnerable young person with a history of being abused by men in positions of power over her. Eventually, Salander's story meets Blomkvist's story and the unlikely pair join forces to solve the mystery of Harriet Vanger's disappearance.
There was a lot of pre-publication hype about this book, the first in a trilogy about the Editor-in Chief of a Swedish magazine (Millennium) written by the real-life Editor-in Chief of a real-life Swedish magazine. Stieg Larsson died shortly after delivering The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and the other two books in the Millennium series to his publisher. The books became hugely popular in Scandinavia and the publication of the first instalment here in the UK was heralded as the arrival of a masterpiece of crime writing.
Well, for once the hype is not entirely unwarranted. It may not be a masterpiece, but The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a very good read. Despite the sometimes dodgy translation this is a really well-written, well-structured novel that was a real pleasure to read. As with many Scandinavian crime novels, there is an atmospheric sense of place, which Larsson achieves with ease. The characterisation, though, is strong and particularly well handled. I sometimes feel that the people who live in crime novels do things for no other reason than because the plot dictates it. That is not the case in this novel, where all the key players are drawn with skill and some deftness. One or two of the characters (not least Lisbeth Salander, the Tattooed Girl herself) could so easily have become caricatures or worse. But Larsson gives them a multi-layered depth that not only makes them real but also makes the reader care about them. Even though it is over 500 pages long, I was pretty much gripped throughout this novel. Recommended....more
On re-reading I might be inclined to lower my rating by half a star - Morse is particularly inept in this early novel and recreates in his imaginativeOn re-reading I might be inclined to lower my rating by half a star - Morse is particularly inept in this early novel and recreates in his imaginative theorising so many versions of the crime (based on no clear evidence) that I wondered how he ever managed to rise to the rank of DCI... ...more
By no means a 'traditional' mystery/thriller but an enjoyable read nonetheless. The quality of the writing more than makes up for the weaknesses in thBy no means a 'traditional' mystery/thriller but an enjoyable read nonetheless. The quality of the writing more than makes up for the weaknesses in the plot....more