Monday, March 30, 2009

Readin': Four by Charles McCarry

I tend to get on a roll with authors. If I read a first book by one and like it, I will often begin a quest to read everything they have written to date. This is not too hard with most authors, as they generally have written less than 10 books, but when you get to a Robert B. Parker or Isaac Asimov, you are in deep trouble. Mr. Asimov, to my knowledge, still holds the Guiness Book record for most books authored by one man at over 400!

Well, I began that roll with Charles McCarry during Christmas vacation when I read The Miernik Dossier. Since then I have read several in the Paul Christopher series. McCarry started writing in the 1970's, after he was no longer working as a deep-cover agent. He's written both fiction and non-fiction, but I'm only interested in his fiction at this point.

The latest quartet of books that I've read by him are Christopher's Ghosts, Old Boys, The Secret Lovers, and The Better Angels. I am almost halfway through Lucky Bastard, but will not write about that one until I have finished.

Christopher's Ghosts
is one of McCarry's latest as it carries a 2007 copyright. The book is split between the years just before WWII in Germany when Paul is in his teens and the 1950s when he is back in Germany and comes into contact with the former SS man who, in part, made his family's life so difficult as 1939 drew closer. The novel reveals Paul's first real love and the part the SS man played in snuffing that out. The novel is psychologically very rich and deep. McCarry writes as well as ever and is a master of description and action.

Old Boys tells the story of Paul Christopher's continued search for his mother. Neither he, nor his father ever stopped believing that Lori Christopher was alive; Hubbard Christopher until his death in the 1950 in Berlin. Though Paul and his mother are a main focus of the novel, neither of them appears in the action until very late in the book. The story is told from the point of view of 4 men who have gone looking for Paul who has been reported dead. The Old Boys meet at his funeral and, at a private gathering afterwards, discover that none of them believes him to be really gone. The novel chronicles their adventures around the world as they search out Paul, and eventually find him with his mother. Very satisfying book and though Lori Christopher's life had an arc like no other, it is still believable. Well worth reading, just not as the first introduction to the world of Paul Christopher as much of the satisfaction of reading comes from seeing men from other novels in new situations and roles.

The Secret Lovers is a book I should have read earlier in the sequence. The novel tells of Paul's marriage to his first wife and of his relentless pursuit of the truth about an operation that caused a death when it should not have. In books I read earlier, there had been references to Paul's first wife. Perhaps I would have understood them more deeply if I had read this one first. Well, there's no going back and I read them in the order I read them. Oh well.

The title of the book works on a couple of levels; first, there are lovers having affairs that are not to be spoken of. In addition, most of the operatives are in love with the idea of secrets that are the truth behind what the rest of the world perceives as 'reality'. It is this love of secrets that sustains them in their lonely, single-minded, and casually violent work.

The Better Angels
is also a book I would have been better off reading earlier. One of the Old Boys in Old Boys, central to the plot of that book, revisits an operation that had previously been thought to be successful. A good portion of The Better Angels concerns that operation and its effect on the major players involved; a President, his chief of staff, a major broadcast journalist, the director of the intelligence service and one of his bureau chiefs (brother to the president's chief of staff and one of the central characters in Old Boys). The story is well told, as usual. The twists and turns of the plot follow the lives of the characters through the course of almost 10 years in flashbacks, though the main action of the book takes place during about four months from the nomination of presidential candidates to Election night.

Knowing what I do from statements in Old Boys, I wish I had read The Better Angels and Shelley's Heart before Old Boys. I have not yet read Shelley's Heart, but I'm sure I will eventually. I have no doubt that I will enjoy it.

A reasonable order for reading the Paul Christopher novels in would be: The Miernik Dossier, The Tears of Autumn, The Secret Lovers, The Better Angels, The Last Supper, Second Sight, Shelley's Heart, Old Boys, and Christopher's Ghosts. Actually, any order would probably be fine; the one I have read them in has been pretty good. I guess you just pick up a different set of nuances when you read them in a particular order.

As with Robert Parker novels, I can't see buying these in hardbound editions. Unfortunately, that means that there are some in the series that are not available to me. The first 5 books I read, (Miernik, Tears, Supper, Ghost, and Old Boys) were the only ones available in paperback. As a result I have resorted to my old friend, the King County Public Library. I got The Secret Lovers, The Better Angels, and Lucky Bastard from the KCPL. They are due next Saturday, April 4. I am sure that I will be done with LB by then. Perhaps I will even have written about it!

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These are the things that interest me. If any of them are of interest to you, great. Read along


About Me

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I'm currently 60 years old. I currently work as the learning management system specialist for American University of Madaba in Madaba, Jordan. I was originally certified as a high-school English teacher and taught school for 13 years (1 year of substituting, 1 year of 7th grade, 2 years of a combined 5th, 6th, 7th grade, 9 years of 8th grade). I've worked for hardware and software companies for the past 23 years doing training, training materials development, certification test development and other education related stuff. My wife and I have raised four children to adulthood; some of them live at home at the moment, but that won't last (they're too independent for that). We live at home with 2 Golden Retrievers, 2 black cats, a crazy cat, and, during the winter, 70,000 coho salmon.