54 by Wu Ming
Kirkus Star


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Grant, Cary Grant. Super secret agent. Not just in Hitchcock films, but in real life.

Four of the five members of the Bologna collective that produced “Luther Blissett’s” novel Q (2004) are back, now calling themselves Wu Ming, Chinese for “no name.” The subterfuge is appropriate, for this is a lively and thoroughly enjoyable thriller of shifting, unknown and mistaken identities, centered on a very Italian problem that attracted much world attention in 1954 but has since been forgotten: namely, the question of what to do with Yugoslav-partitioned Trieste, a little city-state caught in the Cold War power struggle between East and West. How to return Trieste to the Italian—and thus Western—fold? Well, reason the cold warriors of MI6, the first thing is to make Yugoslav dictator Marshal Tito feel more welcome among the capitalists than the Russians, and the way to do that is to “change the attitude of Western public opinion about Tito’s Yugoslavia.” Enter Cary Grant, né the resolutely proletarian Archie Leach, a leftist who sees in the eyes of moviegoers the dream of his own “escape from a life of shit and work” and who, it’s revealed, spent some time during WWII keeping an eye out on Hollywood’s Nazi sympathizers, among them Errol Flynn and Walt Disney. With a few failed films behind him and the age of 50 creeping up, Cary is willing enough to pitch in, though on his own terms. When he reads the debut novel of a newly published spook named Ian Fleming, he takes on the character of James Bond, and then things get cracking. Bullets fly, knives are inserted into backs, intrigues unfold, consciousness is raised under a “lysergic sun” and a dazzling array of major and minor players—the Emperor Bao Dai, Marilyn Monroe, Lucky Luciano, Hitchcock, David Niven, Tito—passes by.

Don Camillo meets The Name of the Rose meets Dr. No: a rewarding beach book for grownups.

Pub Date: July 3rd, 2006
ISBN: 0-15-101380-2
Page count: 560pp
Publisher: Harcourt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 2006


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