Jim Leckband's Reviews > Legends

Legends by Robert Littell
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's review
Feb 20, 2012

really liked it
Read from February 20 to 23, 2012

Everybody in "Legends" is not who they say they are. Spies, of course, but other "civilians" as well. Illegal immigrants, criminals, witness protection, etc. In fact, as the book goes on you are habituated to not take anyone's identity at face value (pun very much intended) since you find out later that it was a "legend".

A "legend" is the cover identity that a CIA spy adopts on a mission. It needs to be so ingrained with history and mannerisms that the spy doesn't have to think to stay in character - only react. That is the problem with the main character - due to a trauma he doesn't know what his ground legend is, he thinks it is Martin Odum, but he isn't quite sure. Shades of Bourne here, but more benign since he has been let go from the Company. Until...and with that until, the story takes off. The story is a combo spy/detective thriller set after the dissolution of the Soviet Union and plutocracy has set in.

Littell spoofs the noir traditions of the detective novel (his detective only knows how to behave from watching/reading "The Maltese Falcon" and other classics.) There are also many nods to Hitchcock, a director who was also mightily interested in identity ("Vertigo", "North by Northwest", "Psycho" and very much etc.). In fact the climax occurs in a village that has a "McGuffin Lane"! HA!

This is my fourth Littell book and I am at a loss why he isn't as respected as John le Carré. His novels are so much more than spy thrillers. They are very well written and plotted, but what is more is that they reach for much greater things than genre novels normally do.

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