The Fourth Protocol

 On Fourth Protocol dustjacket, a pen drips blood
Blood drips from the pen.

Like all Frederick Forsyth’s thrillers, The Fourth Protocol, is a riveting story of good guys—Britain and her allies—versus the bad guys of the Soviet bloc.

The story begins in London with the New Year’s Eve diamond heist from the home of a civil servant. Despite the jewels’ fame and value, the theft goes unreported.

The thief has unwittingly made off with something more valuable.

When he finds out what he has, he tries to set things right.

A package containing the inadvertently stolen item is delivered to Brigadier Bertie Clapstick at the Ministry of Defense.

Clapstick he calls John Preston, who had worked undercover for him in Northern Ireland. The wife of a jeweler had already called Preston to tell relate her husband’s  words as he died from the injuries delivered by unknown assailants.

Preston convinces Clapstick and a few others that there’s a traitor in the Service. Those of his superiors who respect his work set Preston on the case.

Preston saves Britain, but is forced to realize its government doesn’t make the world better—a truth not unlike that embedded in novel’s dedication to Forsyth’s five-year-old son “without whose loving attentions this book would have been written in half the time.”

The Fourth Protocol by Frederick Forsyth
Viking Penguin. ©1984. 389 p.
1984 bestseller #7. My grade: B+

©2019 Linda G. Aragoni

The Hollow Hills tells Arthur’s tale

The Hollow Hills is Mary Stewart’s follow-up to her bestseller The Crystal Cave.

A drawing of a sword and colors behind the title words are only art on The Hollow Hills' dustjacket.
There’s no magic on this cover.

Stewart picks up where that story ended, giving just enough background that people who didn’t read the earlier work aren’t lost but dedicated Stewart readers aren’t bored.

Within days of his birth, Arthur is given into Merlin’s care. Arthur’s father, King Uther Pendragon, had sent the Duke of Cornwall into battle and then bedded the Duke’s wife while the Duke was dying on the battlefield.

Arthur is a bastard.

Uther hopes as his queen Ygraine will bear sons untainted by bastardy, but Uther wants Arthur kept safe just in case he has no legitimate male heir.

Most of The Hollow Hills relates Merlin’s travels between the time he secrets the baby away and the time he comes back to return Arthur to his father as his successor. Those chapters allow Stewart to display her considerable landscape word-painting skills.

The Hollow Hills has less hocus-pocus than Cave and better developed characters (although Merlin, his youthful sidekick Ralf, and Arthur each have about a quarter century’s more maturity than appropriate to their chronological ages).

Stewart isn’t to my taste, but The Hollow Hills gave me more to admire than others of her novels that I’ve read.

The Hollow Hills by Mary Stewart
William Morrow, 1973. 490 p.
1973 bestseller #6. My grade: B

© 2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Crystal Cave: Dark and dull

The Crystal Cave is Mary Stewart’s hallucinogenic tale of Merlin, the shadowy figure of Arthurian legends and post-Roman history.

Dust jacket of the Crystal Cave has black background with type colors suggesting light reflected from crystals.
First edition dust jacket of The Crystal Cave.

Myrddin Emrys, later to become known as Merlin, is the bastard son of the daughter of the King of South Wales by an man the daughter refuses to name.

When the story opens, Merlin is six years old, has the vocabulary of an Oxford don and absorbs every word he hears.

Political intrigue abounds and Merlin hears more than is good for him.

In his early teens, Merlin is kidnapped and taken to Brittany where he has one of his first visions, which brings him to the attention of the man who turns out to be his father. Ambrosius is preparing to invade and make himself King of all Britain.

Merlin joins him.

Even the dust jacket writer couldn’t come up with a summary of the plot of Cave. I won’t even attempt one.

All sorts of implausible events happen to Merlin, all of which fit perfectly with Stewart’s implausible characterization of him.

Merlin is not only a seer, but a skilled engineer, astronomer, physician, diplomat, politician, and dirty tricks artist.

Cave is not an historical novel, nor a fantasy, nor a romance, but a mash of all of them.

This long, convoluted tale is best avoided by all but die-hard Mary Stewart fans.

The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart
William Morrow, © 1970. 514 p.
1970 bestseller #4. My grade: C-

© 2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Mr. Britling Sees nuanced view of Great War

In Mr. Britling Sees It Through, H. G. Wells gives an account of World War I from the perspective of an intellectual with an optimistic view of human nature.

The title character, Mr. Britling, is a moderately well-known writer, who pens essays and articles from his study in Essex, England.


Mr. Britling Sees It Through by H. G. Wells

Macmillan, 1916. Project Gutenberg ebook #14060.
1916 bestseller #4. My grade B+.


Close up photo of HG Wells shows bushy eyebrows, tired eyes, and stubby mustache

Up until the German invasion, Britling tells anyone who will listen that the German people don’t want war.

When war is declared, Britling has to confront both the German support for the war and the British lack of preparedness for that war.

Soon he has to face harsher realities.

Britling is turned down for military service.

Members of his household, including his eldest son, enlist.

Britling’s understanding of war morphs from pins on a map into a girl delivering a telegram.

His political opinions change coincidentally.

Wells based Mr. Britling on his own experience. Indeed, the development of Britling’s thought as events unfold in Europe suggests reportage rather than imagination.

The plot, too, seems determined by historical events rather than story requirements.

Instead of fictionalizing, Wells follows the war so readers can have a sharp, nuanced perspective on one of the most significant events of the 20th century.

© 2016 Linda Gorton Aragoni