The Aquitaine Progression

 “The Aquitaine Progression” dust jacket is black with only small circle in which action is visible.
Converse waits for a cable car

The Aquitaine Progression, like Robert Ludlum’s other thrillers, is an incredibly complex multi-layered story that demands all a reader’s attention.

The main character is Joel Converse, an international lawyer and former Navy pilot. During the Vietnam War, Converse had been imprisoned by the North Vietnamese, escaping to freedom on his third attempt.

The novel’s action is too complicated to relate but the premise at the novel’s core is too believable to be forgotten.

A handful of highly placed military men—in the U.S., France, West Germany, England, Israel, and South Africa are planning to, in effect, take over Europe and Europe’s former colonies in the Americas.

Their plan is to take advantage of peaceful demonstrations to create chaos. The conspirators have trained men ready to attacking both the demonstrators and the demonstrator’s opponents without revealing their own identifies.

In the confusion, the conspirators will assassinate the leaders of the major democracies, expecting that lawlessness they’ve sparked will make people beg for strong military leaders to restore order: The military men have the trained troops and the munitions needed to do that.

Although Ludlum was writing in the ‘80s, it takes little imagination to see how the plot he imagines could play out today.

The Aquitaine Progression by Robert Ludlum
Random House. ©1984. 647 p.
1984 bestseller #2; My grade: A

©2019 Linda Gorton Aragoni

 

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The Little Drummer Girl

Dust jacket has only author’s name and title set on upward sloping line
A picture can’t sum up this novel

In The Little Drummer Girl, John Le Carré abandons George Smiley’s British gloom for a world of international terrorism.

Le Carré fashions a tale about a Palestinian responsible for deaths of Jews throughout Europe. The Israelis know him by the coil of surplus wire left with his crude bombs and by the professionalism with which he eludes detection.

They have no idea who he is, but they have a plan to find out.

The Israelis offer a young English actress called Charlie the role of her life.

The Israelis invent a character for her: the role of a dead terrorist’s lover. They drill her in the facts they know of him and the story they have concocted.

Her job is to get inside the terrorist organization and bring its leader to the Israelis.

Charlie has not only to play her character, but once she’s involved, she has to play other roles, the psychological equivalent of portraying a Russian nesting doll.

The “nestedness” of Charlie’s character requires close attention from readers.  Sometimes Charlie isn’t sure which character she’s playing.

Le Carré lightens the load with apt, sometimes even hilarious, character descriptions, but never lets readers forget that terrorists and anti-terrorists each kill people.

The Little Drummer Girl by John Le Carré
Knopf. 1983. [Book Club ed.] 429 p.
1983 bestseller #4. My grade: A-

©2019 Linda G. Aragoni

Different Seasons: 4 novellas

If you think Stephen King is a one-track writer, the four novellas in Different Seasons will change your mind. Each of them deserves a review of its own.

To package the four novellas in a single cover, the stories are linked by what might be thought of as chapter headers that play off the names of the seasons.

A circle divided into quarters, each quarter containing an icon for one of the seasons
Mysterious, almost romantic images

“Hope Springs Eternal” is the chapter heading for Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, a story about a man unjustly imprisoned for a murder he didn’t commit and his eventual escape.

Many readers will recognize it from the 1994 film version, Shawshank Redemption.

“Summer of Corruption” is the header for Apt Pupil, a horrific tale about a 13-year-old who becomes fascinated by World War II concentration camps. One day Todd sees a old man who resembles an SS officer who ran one of the camps and pays him a visit.

Cover art on black background is a circle split into quarters containing icons for the seasons.“Fall from Innocence” is the header for The Body, a story in which four young boys go to see the body of a boy their own age who’d been reported missing in the Maine woods.

“A Winter’s Tale” is the header for The Breathing Method, a story told by a doctor about an unwed woman determined to have her baby.

Different Seasons by Stephen King
Viking Press, 1982. 527 p.
1982 bestseller #7. My grade: B

© 2019 Linda G. Aragoni

The Parsifal Mosaic

Robert Ludlum’s The Parsifal Mosaic is aptly named: The novel seems composed of millions of bits of information.

front of “The Parsifal Mosaic” suggests gun pointed toward woman in the dark.
A woman on a beach in moonlight

The central story is rather simple. The White House has been infiltrated by a Russian mole who is not an ordinary KGB mole. This mole works for the VKR, the fanatical wing of the KGB.

This much information is suggested obliquely to Michael Havelock, an ex-field agent for a clandestine branch of the U.S. State Department, by his KGB counterpart, Peytor Rostov.

Rostov knows Havelock was in love with a woman who was murdered, accused of being a Soviet spy.

Rostov also knows the woman never had any KGB affiliation. He can’t understand why the kill was made to look like she did.

Havelock rejects the story until he spots his lover across the platform in a crowded Rome train station.

After that—which all happens in the first 40 pages—Havelock has to find Jenna and learn what happened that night on the beach and who is behind the deceptions.

Ludlum twists and turns and jackknifes his plot. He kept me turning pages, but I’m still not sure I got the entire story straight.

Perhaps The Parsifal Mosaic has just a few too many pieces.

The Parsifal Mosaic by Robert Ludlum
Random House © 1982. 630 p.
1981 bestseller #2. My grade B

© 2019 Linda G. Aragoni

Gorky Park: Chilling murder mystery

On dust jacket of Gorky Park, Russian fur hat with red star lies in bloody snow.
Snow, blood, fur… keys to the mystery in Gorky Park.

Martin Cruz Smith’s Gorky Park is like no other murder mystery you’ve ever read.

By taking traditional murder mystery elements into unfamiliar settings, Cruz Smith creates a world that feels absolutely authentic.

The novel is set in Moscow, where three frozen corpses are found by accident in Gorky Park. When the Militia’s homicide detective, Arkady Renko, arrives on the scene, the KGB agent is already there, which means the murder is a political crime.

Major Priblula makes sure his men destroy as much potential evidence at the scene as possible, declares the murders aren’t a political security case, and turns the investigation over to Renko, stipulating that Renko send him regular, detailed reports.

Renko senses he’s being used. He tries to keep busy investigating without finding anything, but his instincts lead him to facts that his analytical mind pieces together.

The story gets more complicated when Renko finds one of the murdered men was an American who had the same last name as an American tourist who turns out to be a New York City policeman .

The plot is complicated by believably complex characters, many of whom are not what they appear to be and several of whom don’t even admit their motivations to themselves.

Gorky Park by Martin Cruz Smith
Random House. ©1981. 365 p.
1981 bestseller #5. My grade: A

©2019 Linda G. Aragoni

The Fifth Horseman: Bombs and bureaucrats

A nuclear explosion is background for type on cover of The Fifth Horseman
Nuclear bomb threat is central to this novel.

The Fifth Horseman is a thriller merging 1970s international news and hometown fears in a narrative that still feels contemporary.

Libya’s Colonel Muammar Gaddafi has devised a plot to trigger a nuclear bomb hidden somewhere in New York City if the Americans don’t get Israel to abandon territories seized from Arabs.

Getting the bomb into New York and getting directions to the White House falls to Kamil and Whalid Dajani and their sister, Laila.

The trio had vowed vengeance for the loss of the family’s West Bank home.

Whalid studied nuclear physics and went to work for the French nuclear program.

Whalid’s political views softened; Kamil’s and Laila’s became harder.

Laila, disguised, delivers the terrorists’ threat.

Gaddafi gives the U.S. 36 hours to comply. Should the U.S. attempt to evacuate the city, Gaddafi will detonate the bomb immediately.

Americans scrambling to respond to the nuclear threat discover they have few options other than to find the bomb and disarm it without news of the crisis leaking out.

Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre had been news reporters before joining forces to write books.  Their first hand observation of political appointees shows in their depiction of inept bureaucrats trying to solve an immediate problem.

That in itself still renders The Fifth Horseman terrifying.

The Fifth Horseman
by Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre
Simon and Schuster. ©1980. 478 p.
1980 bestseller #9. My grade: A-

©2019 Linda G. Aragoni

The Bourne Identity: Gripping story, forgettable characters

A sea shell pierced by a nail against a black background on the dust jacket of “The Bourne Identity”
The Bourne Identity cover art symbolizes murder attempt at sea

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.

The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum
R. Marek Publishers, © 1980. 523 p.
1980 bestseller #2. My grade: B+

© 2019 Linda G. Aragoni