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Archive for the ‘Thriller’ Category

Section of dust jacket for *The Plot* shows Paris site of peace conference at night.

The Plot is a novel about a handful of characters trying to recreate their picture of themselves at their best.

It’s set against the background of a Paris conference aimed at keeping China from acquiring a nuclear bomb.


The Plot: A Novel by Irving Wallace
Simon and Schuster, 1967. 828 p. 1967 bestseller #8. My grade: B.

The story is, as blurb-writers say, “ambitious” and “monumental” — which means slow-starting and agonizingly complex.

Irving Wallace is a good story-teller, but there’s simply too much story to tell in one novel.

The lead character, Matthew Brennan, is an American who worked for the State Department until wrongfully accused of treason. He’s in Paris hoping to get one of the two people who can clear his name to speak for him.

Former political columnist Jay Thomas Doyle is in Paris to see his old girl friend who knows the man who can say who really killed JFK — and give Doyle material for a book to resuscitate his career.

The old girl friend is writing color pieces for a news service at the Paris Summit.

There’s also a heart-of-gold whore trying to get home to England, an incompetent who was America’s president at the time of Brennan’s troubles, and a host of other characters too numerous to remember.

Few readers who aren’t baby boomers or older will have the background knowledge to appreciate this great-in-the-day novel.

©  2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni

 

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Topaz is a political thriller on a hot topic of the sixties: Russia’s attempt to put missiles in Cuba.Military dress hat and gloves adorn Topaz dust jacket of Topaz

As a dictator threatens the US with nuclear attack and the US investigates the Russians’ disinformation tactics in the 2016 election, Topaz seems timely again.


Topaz by Leon Uris
McGraw-Hill, [1967] 341 p. 1964 bestseller #4. My grade: B.

Leon Uris weaves a story that involves people at the highest levels of the diplomatic services in America, France, and Russia, including a fictionalized John F. Kennedy-like character.

The story begins when a KGB agent seeking to defect contacts Americans secret service agents in Copenhagen.

The US gives Brois Kuznetov and his family asylum.

Kuznetov insists André Devereaux, head of the French secret service in Washington, be present when he is interrogated.

Kuznetov revels he ran a secret department, code name Topaz, that specialized in disinformation.

Topaz accomplished much of its highly successful effort to mislead America by leaking information to their French allies who passed it on. The KGB’s work reached to office of the French president.

Characters interest Uris more than events: He makes opportunities to tell of their lives years prior to the story’s start.

His biographical sketches make his characters believably ordinary, despite their important political roles.

And political victories take a back seat to friendships.

© 2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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At the birth of the twentieth century, Americans were obsessed with European royalty, their own recently ended Civil War, and their rising status among nations.

In The Port of Missing Men, Meredith Nicholson takes all three obsessions and weaves them into thriller that can still keep today’s readers’ full attention.

Emperor Franz Joseph looks frail in this 1901 photograph of him at a bridge dedication.

Aging Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph I dedicates a bridge in 1901


The Port of Missing Men by Meredith Nicholson
1907 bestseller #3. Project Gutenberg ebook#13913. My grade: B.

Spies sent by the Austrian Prime Minister failed to recover an important document that can determine who will succeed the present ailing monarch.

Count von Stroebel meets in Geneva in March, 1903 with a young man calling himself John Armitage. Armitage owns a ranch in Wyoming but could easily make people believe he is the legitimate heir to the Austrian throne.

Von Stroebel shows Armitage a photograph of the thief, a man known to Armitage as Jules Chauvenet.

Armitage and Chauvenet are both pursuing Shirley Claiborne, the pretty daughter of an American ambassador.

Before they part, von Stroebel tells Armitage, “Do something for Austria.”

The novel has no more character development than necessary for a thriller: Nicholson puts all his energy into the complicated plot.

Needless to say, the story ends with criminals brought to justice and love triumphant.

The plot and characters are readily forgettable.

The tidbits of European and American cultural history Nicholson includes will stick.

© 2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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No one could mistake The Black Bag for literature with or without a capital L.

But for a puzzling mystery at a break-neck pace, The Black Bag is an unmistakable winner.A black bag with that title and author Louis Joseph Vance's name in gold type on the bag.


The Black Bag by Louis Joseph Vance
Illus. Thomas Fogarty. ©1908. 1908 bestseller #9.
Project Gutenberg ebook #9779. My grade: B.

Philip Kirkwood is preparing to leave London for San Francisco. A Mr. Calendar asks Philip to carry something to America for him.

Philip declines. He doesn’t trust Calendar.

In in the hotel dining room later, Calendar asks Philip to escort his daughter home, saying he expects to be arrested momentarily.

To spare the girl, Philip agrees.

Looking for a man with a girl, detectives stop Philip.

Calendar gets away.

“Home” turns out to be an unlighted townhouse with a “To Let” sign.

Walking to his hotel, Philip has second thoughts about leaving Miss Calendar there.

He returns, finds the door ajar, the building in darkness.

Within those events, Louis J. Vance has hidden all the prompts for Philip’s subsequent adventures—chases on land and sea by hansom, train, automobile, and boat—and the story’s dramatic denouement.

Discerning readers will see that within a year the besotted Philip will be bored stiff by Dorothy Calendar, but that’s a story for another novelist to tell.

© 2016 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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When she learns of her sister’s engagement, eight-year-old Bettina “Betty” Vanderpoel cries, “He’ll do something awful to you….He’ll nearly kill you. I know he will.”

Sir Nigel Anstruthers turns out as nasty as Betty predicts.


The Shuttle by Frances Hodgson Burnett
1908 bestseller #5.
Project Gutenberg ebook #506. My grade: A-.

Green, hilly English countryside with a few sheep grazing, no people in sight.When he realizes Reuben Vanderpoel won’t support him, Sir Nigel craftily isolates Rosalie from family back in New York, then bullies her into transferring her property to him.

While Rosalie withers, Betty is educated in France, Germany, and in company of her astute capitalist father.

At 20, Betty goes to England to see Rosalie.

Sir Nigel has thoroughly cowed Rosalie and Ughtred, his son to whom the estate is entailed.

Betty takes charge, using her charm and her father’s money to make the estate liveable and her sister comfortable.

Inevitably, the Vanderpoel heiress is swarmed by suitors.

Betty’s heart, however, throbs for Lord Mount Duncan, who scorns the practice of marrying American money to put a deteriorating English estate to rights.

Although Frances Hodgson Burnett gives the novel the love-interest of a romance and the suspense of a thriller, the novel is deeper than those categories.

Burnett explores personalities, digs into gender roles, and shows how England and America were separated by culture and reunited by money.

© 2016 Linda Gorton Aragoni

 

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The Pawns Count is a can’t-put-down thriller about a female spy in the tense days when Germany and England were fighting trench-to-trench in France.

E. Phillips Oppenheim clothes characters from the era’s pop fiction with individual personalities and immerses them in detail his readers would have heard shouted by paperboys in London and New York.


The Pawns Count by E. Phillips Oppenheim

1918 bestseller #8. Project Gutenberg ebook #9836. My grade: B+.


Pamela VanTeyl is lunching with a British officer in a London restaurant when another guest, an explosives inventor, goes to wash his hands, and disappears.

When Pamela visits two of the restaurant’s employees that afternoon, readers learn that she’s much more than a rich, sexy, American socialite.

Pamela is actively pursued by German-American Oscar Fischer, a man her equal in brains and fortune. As long as America stays out of the war, Fischer is for Germany first, America second.

Pamela also pursued by John Lutchester, a lightly-wounded British officer doing desk duty in the Ministry of Munitions.

Before the novel ends, the intrigue has reached to the highest levels of government in four nations.

Oppenheim’s novel is more than a pleasant pass time: It gives a window into American attitudes toward Europe and the Great War, and lays the historical groundwork for the next war two decades later.

© 2016 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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The Man with the Golden Gun, the final James Bond novel, was published after Ian Fleming’s death.

The novel’s presence on the 1965 bestseller list was a memorial tribute from Fleming’s loyal readers.

Dust jacket cover forThe Man with the Golden Gun


The Man with the Golden Gun by Ian Fleming

New American Library, 1965. 183 pages. 1965 bestseller #7. My grade: C-.


Between the end of the previous novel, You Only Live Twice, and the opening of Golden Gun, Commies brainwash Bond to repudiate capitalism.

Bond tries to assassinate M, who orders Bond re-brainwashed to believe in capitalism again.

M. sends Bond to prove his right-thinking by finding and killing “Pistols” Scaramanga, an entrepreneurial killer putting together a deal linking organized crime and anti-Western governments.

Scaramanga is somewhere in the Caribbean where there are swamps, snakes, alligators, female bodies tied to railroad tracks, swords honed to razor-sharpness, and strippers to entertain after dinner.

As always, Bond is cool, brave, irresistible to women, and smarter than the bad guys, even when he does dumb things, which he does at lot.

Scaramanga, in a Liberace-white suit and cowboy hat, and Hendricks, a KGB agent in a dark wool suit and Homberg, would as soon kill Bond as look at him.

They try, but Bond survives.

Folks who think James Bond is God’s gift to readers will enjoy Golden Gun.

The rest will be glad it’s short.

©2015 Linda G0rton Aragoni

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