A PERFECT SPY

The "perfect spy" in this bitter, stately le Carré novel—more character-study than thriller—is Magnus Pym, 50-ish, a senior spymaster for Britain, based in Vienna. . .but now, suddenly, disappeared, after returning to England for the funeral of his old father, Rick. Where has Pym gone? Is he a traitor on the run, a double-agent? Those are the questions that face Pym's aging mentor, Jack Brotherhood, and Pym's second wife, Mary (mother of their teen-aged son); they find themselves trying to defend Pyro to the powers, that-be, to their CIA allies—as evidence accumulates to suggest that smooth, charismatic Pyro, who masterminded a network of Czech informers, was indeed working for the Czechs all along. Meanwhile, however, the reader knows exactly where Pyro is: he is holed up in a south Devon coastal town, fussed over by a doting landlady in a Victorian boardinghouse, writing his elegant, ironic, spacious memoirs. And, in chapters that alternate with the Vienna-based sleuthing, Pyro-sliding with surprising ease between first-person and third-person narration—sets down "Word for word the truth. No evasions, no fictions, no devices. Just my overpromised self set free." He recalls above all father Rick, an irresistible, incorrigible con-man who used, betrayed, everyone who loved him—including wife Dorothy (who went mad), a lovely Jewish refugee named Lippsie (who committed suicide), and Pyro himself. Pyro remembers how, following Rick's example, he learned "to live on several planes at once," to cultivate surface charm; he sees himself as someone doomed to become a "divided city" from the start—doomed to forge new loyalties only to betray them, doomed always to serve two masters at once, "to pacify and reconcile." Indeed, Pyro recalls how he betrayed father Rick, how he betrayed the best friend of his youth, a Czech refugee named Axel. And, above all, Pyro recalls how, meeting Axel years later, when both of them had become spies (on opposite sides), it became impossible not to betray his country. . .rather than his friend. ("Does it amaze you that Pyro, by making bonds with the forbidden, should be once more escaping from what held him?") There's a modicum of tension here as the search for Pyro heats up: mentor Jack, after interviews with all of Pym's intimates, comes to believe that his protégé is indeed a traitor; wife Mary, after a chilling scene with Czech spymaster Axel (also in pursuit of Pyro), comes up with the clue that finally leads the British agents to Devon—for the grim, inevitable conclusion. And, in the first half, at least, there's a basic mystery to ponder: is or isn't Pym a traitor? But, to an even greater degree than in le Carré's previous spy novels, suspense takes second place here to psychological texture and morality-play dynamics. The result can be somewhat repetitious, not entirely convincing (Pym's self-psychoanalysis seems a bit simplistic), more than a little preachy. Still, if less masterly than either the Karla trilogy or The Spy Who Came In From the Cold, this is a much plainer, finer accomplishment than The Little Drummer Girl—while the long memoir sections allow le Carré to write his richest, most unabashedly Dickensian prose yet: occasionally self-conscious or precious, often stirring, magical, gravely joyous.

Pub Date: May 1, 1986

ISBN: 0143119761

Page Count: -

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Sept. 27, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1986

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A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

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DEVOLUTION

Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z (2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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