As he did in his previous bestseller, The Matarese Circle, in The Bourne Identity novelist Robert Ludlum tells a story that will keep readers turning pages long past their bedtime.
Bourne is the identity assumed by a man pulled from the Mediterranean “more corpse than man,” unable to remember anything about his past, including why he has a piece of microfilm with a Swiss bank account number implanted in his hip.
In Zurich, the amnesiac takes a woman hostage—every spy story requires the hero have a woman to complicate the plot—and together in Paris they begin to piece together Jason Bourne’s origins in Southeast Asia.
Ludlum is a master storyteller. Plot is his forte. Ludnum gives his characters just enough depth to be recognizable. They learn what’s necessary to advance the plot, but they don’t grow.
A day after closing The Bourne Identity, readers may wonder how Bourne, even before being shot in the head multiple times, could have been expected to remember everything he was required to remember to implement the machination of the West’s intelligence services.
Two days later, readers may even be unable to recall the names of the main characters.
But while they’re reading, they will be totally immersed in this complex, fast-paced thriller.
In 1944, the whole world expected the Allies to invade German-held territory on the continent soon.
The question was where.
Ken Follett’s novel Eye of the Needle is based on the hoax of cardboard ships and planes, called the First United States Army Group, that Britain created to suggest they will attack at Calais, near Belgium, rather than at their intended site in Normandy.
From that historical fact, Follett sets up a thrilling cat-and-mouse game in which a German spy, Henry Faber, called “The Needle” because of his preference for the stiletto as a death weapon, discovers the deception and tries to get his evidence back to Germany.
Farber is a professional spy. The other German spies working in England are rank amateurs; Farber has to eliminate them if they see his face.
The spies trying to catch Farber are also little more than amateurs. Percy Goldiman’s specialty is medieval history; before the war Frederick Bloggs was an inspector with Scotland Yard.
The unlikely pair come up with a scheme for getting a photograph of Farber.
Eye of the Needlecontains no great philosophical truths, but Follett gets his psychological truths right.
Ordinary people rising to the occasion make this mystery-thriller extraordinary.
The Eagle Has Landed is a World War II novel that manages to be both exciting and nuanced.
The novel is about a 1943 German plot to kidnap Winston Churchill in a commando operation, which Himmler thinks might make Hitler happy.
Himmler selects Colonel Max Radl, a terminally ill officer, to coordinate the top secret mission.
By coincidence, a spy living on a remote, unprotected stretch of English coastline reports that Churchill will be staying overnight nearby on November 6.
Radl pulls together an unlikely team led by Kurt Steiner, a German officer in disgrace for helping a Jew, with aid from Irish Republican Army operative Liam Devlin and hindrance from Harvey Preston, a captured English soldier who defected to the SS.
Steiner’s dozen commandos parachute in to join Devlin, who had already secured the necessary equipment for the snatch.
Then things start going wrong.
Novelist Jack Higgins’ characters are puzzling, contradictory personalities, not your typical war novel stereotypes. In fact, the Eagle’s battle-hardened German soldiers are too nice. Joseph Wambaugh’s Choirboys would be more believable. They’d fit in with American Colonel Shafto, who thinks nobody can run a war as well as he.
Despite that highly intriguing flaw, The Eagle lives up to his book jacket blurbs.
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is a novel about ex-spymaster George Smiley’s efforts to uncover the double agent responsible for virtual collapse of the British Intelligence Service in the Cold War era.
Smiley had been forced out of the Circus, the British spy agency at which he’d been Control’s number 2, when a group of four young men rose to leadership and Control himself died.
When the novel opens, Smiley has been called out of retirement to find out which of the four is the double agent. His isn’t a cloak-and-dagger job, but a tedious search for patterns in data.
The excitement in the novel, which the film version probably captures far better than print, is provided mainly through characters’ recollections of what happened years before.
Tinker swings between then and now, telling about characters with multiple names and identities, which made me long for one of the whiteboards seen in police procedurals with photos and brief descriptions of the characters.
In his introduction to the 1991 paperback edition, John le Carré tells of the difficulties he had plotting Tinkerand his sense that the story was already regarded as historical fiction.
After a week of business related to his U.S. Space Agency job, Ian Ferrier stops in Málaga, Spain, to visit Jeff Reid. Ian and Jeff worked together eight years before, gathering evidence of Khrushchev’s rocket installations in Cuba.
Now Jeff works for an American wine importer, and Ian’s current work entails scanning the skies for another Cuba-type crisis, this time satellite-based.
Jeff remembers Ian’s love of flamenco and takes him to see the local flamenco star, Tavita, dance.
Before the evening is over, Jeff meets a man claiming to be a defector from the assassination division of Cuba’s Foreign Intelligence Service. As he goes to alert his superiors to the defector’s demands, Jeff is the victim of a cyanide attack.
Barely alive when Ian finds him, Jeff confides in Ian, who becomes a de facto CIA agent when Jeff is assassinated.
Message shows why Helen MacInnes became known for “highly literate” spy novels. Readers must be as alert as the intelligence operatives.MacInnes’s story is tense but restrained. Readers seeking explosions and high-speed chases should look elsewhere.
So too should readers who want James Bond-ish sex romps. Ian appreciates beautiful women but he’s not going to risk his life to bed one.
Message from Málaga by Helen MacInnes
Harcourt Brace Jovanovich  367 p.
1971 bestseller #6. My grade: B+