Walking dead man reveals The Double Image

Passing through Paris on his way to Greece, historian John Craig runs into one of his Columbia professors, a former Auschwitz inmate on his way back to the states after testifying at the trial of Nazis in Frankfurt.


The Double Image by Helen MacInnes

Harcourt, Brace & World, 1966. 309 pp. My grade: B.


words The Double Image shown as mirror image
Over drinks, Sussman confides that he’s seen a dead Nazi on a Paris street.

Craig wonders if Sussman is hallucinating.

Then he sees a man follow Sussman from the cafe.

The next day Craig learns the professor was found dead, apparently of suicide.

Those unsettling experiences—and a party hosted by his brother-in-law in the foreign service—plunge Craig into the grim world of Cold War international espionage.

Helen MacInnes keeps a tight rein on her complex plot. She sketches the main characters in only slightly more detail than necessary to make their behavior believable.

There’s nothing of James Bond about Craig. He can use his fists or a pistol, but his intelligence is his main weapon.

And he doesn’t get even one woman into bed—not even the one woman he’d like to have there.

The Double Image will please readers who like their entertainment fast moving and intellectually challenging.

© 2016 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Bombs Land Close to Home in Dangerous Days

Mary Roberts Rinehart opens Dangerous Days with a boring dinner party hosted by an American steel manufacturer and his wife.

The year is 1916.

Europe is on the verge of destruction.

Natalie and Clayton Spencer are on the edge of domestic destruction.

WWI soldiers fire a machine gun
Machine gunners at the Battle of the Somme

Clay has brought son, Graham, into his steel business at the bottom, much to Natalie’s dismay. She wants her boy to have the best even if it destroys him.

Clay wants a woman’s love but not at the price of his moral destruction.

Clay is sure America will be in the war soon.

Graham and his father realize — though they don’t say it to each other — that Graham may escape moral destruction only by volunteering to die.

Rinehart follows the bored people around the opening chapter dinner table through to Armistice Day, revealing them to be anything but boring. She masterfully combines deft characterizations, historical episodes such as the communists’ helping American draft-dodgers escape into Mexico, and intricate plots within her main plot.

There’s a certain flag-waving bravado about the novel — all the characters but Natalie do their bit in the war — but the complexity of the characters and the realness of their confusions make this page-turner a novel you won’t soon forget.

Dangerous Days
by Mary Roberts Rinehart
1919 bestseller #4
Project Gutenberg e-book #1693
My grade: A-

© 2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni

 

The Martyred Exposes Conflicts of Conscience

Dust jacket of The MartyredThe Korean War is the backdrop for The Martyred, but the story could just as easily be set in Afghanistan or the Central African Republic today.

Richard E. Kim presents his novel as a first-person account by a South Korean Army Captain stationed in Pyongyang between the expulsion of the Communists and their recapture of the city.

Shortly before pulling out, the Communists seized 14 Christian ministers and shot 12 of them to death. Korean Army Intelligence wants to know whether the 12 were martyrs — great anti-Communist propaganda — or if the two were informers.

Only one of the two ministers survived with enough brain function to be able to tell the truth about what happened, and the Rev. Shin seems to be hiding a secret. Did he lie? Is he lying now? Captain Lee must uncover the truth.

Although Kim is frugal with adjectives, his simple prose creates an atmosphere as terrifying as any Gothic novel. There’s something about the good guys that feels untrustworthy.

Kim’s prose isn’t hard to read, but readers have to pay close attention. Every sentence is on the quiz — and some day your life might depend on knowing the right answers.

The Martyred
By Richard E. Kim
Seoul, Korea: Sam Jung-Dang
1964 bestseller #7
316 pages
My grade: A-

© 2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Helen Has Little Romance, Lots of Gab in Old House

Helen Ward is young, unmarried, and at loose ends. The end of World War I left her with no meaningful occupation because,  as the daughter of a millhand who became rich from his patent on a process that revolutionized the mill operation, she can’t work for money.

Helen’s brother, John, runs the mill with too much respect for workers to suit his deranged father or Helen. She’s both pleased and miffed by her childhood sweetheart, John’s best friend, “knows his place” and makes no social overatures.

Adam Ward hopes his daughter will marry Jim McIver, another mill owner, and show John how workers ought to be treated.

As readers of romances know, Harold Bell Wright won’t let that  marriage happen.

However, this set-up for romantic froth about whether Helen will find happiness is overshadowed by more exciting questions:

Can communist Jake Vodell incite a strike at the mill?

If the mill workers stage a sympathy strike, will Adam Ward blow up his mill as he’s threatened?

Why does Adam have such contempt for his one-time friend Pete Martin?

The central character of  Helen of the Old House turns out to be The Interpreter, a larger-than-life character who  lost the use of his legs in a mill accident and now supports himself by making baskets.

The Interpreter’s dispassionate advice is as much sought now as his translation skills had been when he worked in the mill. Although confined to a wheel chair, The Interpreter doesn’t miss much that goes on. Sooner or later, all the characters end up at the Interpreter’s hut.

Wright lades the novel with inspirational speeches about the dignity of work and the brotherhood of men that sound like the script for a Pathe news reel.  The story is saved from death by sugar overdose by a couple disreputable characters of such nastiness they’ll leave you gasping for breath.

Helen of the Old House
Harold Bell Wright
Published 1921
1922 Bestseller # 10
Project Gutenberg ebook #9410
 
© 2012 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Poor Wise Man makes romantic thriller from 1920’s economic upheaval

Mary Roberts Rinehart, noted for her mysteries, hit the bestseller list in 1921 with a romantic thriller. A Poor Wise Man is an exciting read that still leaves readers with plenty to think about.

Lily Cardew, heir to the Cardew steel fortune, is home after a year of war work in Ohio. Labor trouble is brewing at the Cardew mill.

Trouble is also brewing at home, where years of resentments between Lily’s parents and her grandfather are heating up.

And Lily is impatient with the old social barriers, having made friends with the lower classes, represented by Willy Cameron, whose limp had kept him from World War I. Willy is one of the “plain men” who love their country, but fight for their homes.

When Lily decides to visit her Aunt Elinor, who is married to an anarchist, she draws the disapproval of her household.

At the Doyle’s, Lily meets Louis Akers, an attorney and Red agent, running for city mayor. Akers “hated the rich because they had more than he had, but he scorned the poor because they had less.”

Willy Cameron is allied with the other major mayoral candidate, who is likely to lose to the nefarious Akers if Lily’s father stays in the race and splits the vote.

Rinehart applies all her plotting skills to weaving a complicated story embellished with fist fights, gun fights, street riots, and midnight chases on back roads.

The hero and heroine are a bit too pat, the romance a tad too predictable, but several minor characters are vividly real.

And the Rinehart’s picture of economic conditions after the first World War, based on historical facts, have an uncanny similarity to contemporary events, as these selected passages show:

 “The miners wanted to work a minimum day for a maximum wage, but the country must have coal. Shorter hours meant more men for the mines, and they would have to be imported. But labor resented the importation of foreign workers.”
——————————————————————————-
“The cry of the revolutionists, to all enough and to none too much, found a response not only in the anxious minds of honest workmen, but among an underpaid intelligentsia. . .Neither political party offered any relief; the old lines no longer held, and new lines of cleavage had come. Progressive Republicans and Democrats had united against reactionary members of both parties. There were no great leaders, no men of the hour.”
——————————————————————————–
Howard Cardew’s musings on the labor union movement:
“It was like representative government. It did not always represent. It, too, was founded on representation in good faith; but there was not always good faith. The union system was wrong. It was like politics. The few handled the many. The union, with its all-powerful leaders, was only another form of autocracy. It was Prussian. Yet the ideal behind the union was sound enough.”

A Poor Wise Man
By Mary Roberts Rinehart
Project Gutenberg E-Book #1970
My grade: B+
© 2011 Linda Gorton Aragoni

For Whom the Bell Tolls Goes Inside an Insurgency

Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls is a gripping and thought-provoking look at war from the perspective of guerrilla fighters worn down by years of sniping.

The novel is about Robert Jordan, an American fighting  with the Communist International Brigades against fascists in Spain in the 1930s.  The freedom fighters are a handful of men and two women who have lost homes and families in the civil war.

Jordan is ordered to rally local freedom fighters to blow up a mountain bridge, timing the blast to cut off reinforcements when the communist attack elsewhere.  Jordan blows the bridge, but his superiors bundle the operation.

The novel’s plot feels familiar. You can easily imagine Tom Hanks playing Jordan. What isn’t familiar is the perspective.

The guerrillas aren’t sainted freedom fighters. Some who believed in The Cause are disillusioned. Some enjoy killing. Some seek power. Some have nothing else to do.

Hemingway’s prose is straightforward but not sparse. He shows the swiftness of death, the malingering  memories of killing and violence. His characters relive what they cannot forget, looking for absolution.

For Whom the Bell Tolls is worth rereading in a day when a half-dozen civil wars fester an almost every continent.

For Whom the Bell Tolls
Ernest Hemingway
Scribner, 1940
#4 on the 1940 bestseller list
#5 on the 1941 bestseller list
My grade: A

© 2010 Linda Gorton Aragoni