A Legacy of Spies: John LeCarre

When it comes to LeCarre, there is “Good John” (almost all the non-Smiley) and “Bad John” (most of the Smiley). This being a ‘Smiley’ offering, the book is not only by my definition, “Bad John,” but also pretty pedestrian writing. The one thing the Smiley contributions do do well is highlighting the mendacity, paucity and amorality of the intelligence profession as a whole.

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Robert Harris: Munich

Harris’ FATHERLAND, set in historical Nazi Germany, was a tour de force of Alternative History. Thank God, then, that Harris now returns to Germany-in-the-past, this time to offer a book of “faction” focusing on British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s calamitous journey to Munich to appease Hitler and hand over the Czech Sudetenland to the Nazis.

How else could we know the colour of the draperies in each of the rooms the ostensible “protagonist” carries two red boxes from room to room throughout the book, for nothing else new of historical significance nor literary merit is otherwise added.

A Gentleman in Moscow: Amor Towles

I am by no means immune to the charms of literary fiction. Indeed, I have advanced degrees in the location and time period of Towles’ book. However, not even the supposed charms of Count Rostov or the Hotel Metropol could keep me interested in this literary tale, bereft as it is of bon mots, startling insights, clever turns of phrase or the economy or beauty of language. Not only does not nothing happen through the entire course of the book, there is not even a hint that something will happen. Ever!

Lethal White: Robert Galbraith (JK Rowling)

The core of his excellent mystery serial is the unlikely relationship and sexual tension between Cormoran and Robin, who by now are shared partners in the detective agency. Unfortunately, it should be the plot that carries that along and illustrates it instead of having it jammed down our throats and choking the life out of the story. The worst of the four. Rowling says it is the favorite book she has written. I hope she’s gotten it out of her system and gets back to writing good, balanced stories.

Children of the Mind: Orson Scott Card

This is the last in Card’s “ENDER” series, one of the best sci-fi series in history IMHO. Card receives a huge amount of social criticism for his views but, Lordy, the man can write a good story! This one is better read after all its preceding offerings. Even given that, there is too much back story, prose and explanation to hook me like the others did. It only really works when the dialogue and plot take over from the back story. Still, a wonderful series that everyone should read.