The Russia House (novel)

all text cover on black and red backgroundThe Russia House, is, as one expects from John le Carré, is set in the Cold War era.

In the novel, a salesman at a Moscow book fair is slipped a document by a frightened woman who wants it delivered it to Barley Blair, who she says has agreed to publish it for a unnamed friend of hers.

The salesman sneaks the manuscript through customs. Unable to find Blair, he delivers it to British Intelligence, whose CIA counterparts find it details the Soviet’s nuclear capabilities and atomic secrets.

The Service finds Blair, and presses him turning spy.

Barley stays sober long enough to be trained in the rudiments of spy craft, and sent into Russia to find the unnamed author and verify the authenticity of the document.

He contacts Kayla, trying to reach the author through her.

Before he gets to Yakov, Barley and Kayla are in love, and Yakov appears to be under KGB surveillance.

On what’s supposed to be his final effort to find out if the documents are authentic, Barley disappears.

Russia House has all the complexity of earlier Le Carré novels, but a far less gloomy setting and an almost upbeat ending.

The Russia House by John Le Carré
Knopf. ©1989. 353 p.
1989 bestseller #7; my grade: A

©2019 Linda G. Aragoni

I’ll Take Manhattan

 City skyline sparkles on front of “I'll Take Manhattan”
NYC glitters like pre-K art

I’ll Take Manhattan is a Judith Krantz novel about the lifestyles of rich and powerful paper dolls. Here her focus is the rich and powerful in the 1980s magazine industry.

Thrice married, high school dropout Maxi Amberville finds her role in life when she gets the opportunity to throw herself and her fortune into establishing a new magazine.

Like other Krantz female leads, Maxi is a self-absorbed female oozing sexuality.

Maxi has a bosom pal, a famous actress, who appears out of nowhere to allow Maxi to reveal her innermost thoughts, which are as deep as her outermost thoughts.

The story is told in flashbacks and “little did she know” anticipatory flashes. Amid the flashes, readers may not recall the past event to which the dramatic denouement refers.

The little interest there is in Manhattan is the topical references.

There are lots of jokes about last-century TV and movie stars, politicians, and news makers.

A few of the jokes are funny.

Donald Trump makes a cameo appearance in the novel, buying Maxi’s apartment in Trump Tower to help her out, and getting less for it when he unloads it than he paid Maxi.

Readers of I’ll Take Manhattan will fare no better than Trump.

I’ll Take Manhattan by Judith Krantz
Crown Publishers, ©1986. 437 p.
1986 bestseller #7; my grade: C-

©2019 Linda G. Aragoni

Dreams Die First

Dreams Die First is another of Harold Robbins’ raunchy tales about sex to fit all tastes.

“Dreams Die First” cover features a woman's breasts, nipples tastefully concealed.
Cover art is most tasteful part of Dreams Die First.

The story is about Gareth Brendan, Vietnam vet, doing nothing rather unsuccessfully in California when his rich, powerful uncle offers him control of an underground newspaper.

Gareth had tried writing: No one would buy his stuff.

Now his unemployment has run out.

He takes the offer.

Gareth finds he has an aptitude for sleaze.

He goes from the newspaper, to a magazine called Macho which features the “supercunt of the month.”

From there he expands into “Lifestyle” publications and clubs not just for men interested in women.

He’s about to take his company public (I inadvertently typed pubic instead of public. I’ve been reading too much Robbins.) when the operation falls apart.

No worries.

There’s a happy ending.

Despite his reliance on drugs and alcohol, his violence, and his general stupidity, Gareth is a peach of a guy.

Women love him.

Men, including a prominent California clergyman, love him.

The only people who don’t love him are the FBI, the Narcotics Division of the Treasury Department, Scotland Yard, and the Condor Group of the Mexican Police.

And me.

P.S. I’m not too fond of Harold Robbins either.

Dreams Die First by Harold Robbins
Simon and Schuster, ©1977. [paper] 408 p.
1977 bestseller #6. My grade: D-

Salzburg Connection is high voltage spy story

jacket of The Salzburg Connection shows swastika over Austrian landscapeIn The Salzburg Connection, Helen MacInnes returns to a theme she explored in her earlier bestseller The Double Image: Nazi activity in the Cold War era.

This time, Nazis are protecting records that they can use for blackmail purposes when the time is right.

Like her earlier book, Connection has an unlikely hero.

Lawyer Bill Mathison is in Salzburg on business for a client, a science book publisher.

Photographer Richard Bryant had written them about a book contract he’d signed and for which he had received an advance.

The publisher had never heard of Bryant, doesn’t publish art books, and the check for the advance was written on a New York bank account used for undercover activities against the U.S.

While Mathison is trying to sort things out, Bryant’s car is found crashed in the Austrian Alps with two bodies in it burned beyond recognition.

Bryant’s wife, brother-in-law, and a family friend all know bits of the story about why Bryant was in the Alps.

Mathison has to figure it out.

MacInnes writes cerebral espionage stories with minimal violence tastefully conveyed and the obligatory love interest handled discretely.

MacInnes has little to offer beyond the plot, but dishes up that bit superbly.


The Salzburg Connection by Helen MacInnes
406 p. Harcourt, Grace & World, 1968. 1968 bestseller #3. My grade: B+.

© 2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni

 

The View from Pompey’s Head shows South and self

Cover of The View from Pompey's Head

The View from Pompey’s Head by Hamilton Basso is a novel about  New York City lawyer Anson Page whose work takes him back to his southern home.

Anson’s task is to determine whether a recently deceased editor for a publishing house embezzled a client’s royalties.

Anson’s law firm and their client assume his local connections will make it easy for him to find out why Mrs. Garvin Wales is sure Phillip Greene stole her husband’s royalties.

Anson assumes his local connections will make it difficult, if not impossible, for him to find out the truth.

Basso explores not only the murky process of growing up, but the Southern mindset, which Anson calls “Southern Shintoism.”

Basso takes his time telling the story, letting Anson delve into his memories of how things appeared to him more than 15 years before.

Anson’s memories are still vivid, some painfully so, but his understanding of their meaning has changed as he matured. Anson finally finds the solution to the mystery of the re-directed royalties through his adult understanding of Southern culture.

Though the novel moves with Southern summer speed, Basso keeps it moving without any extraneous elements. Without exerting himself to entertain, he keeps readers engaged, leading them effortlessly to understand the value of the South’s myths.

The View from Pompey’s Head
By Hamilton Basso
© 1954 by Hamilton Basso
Introduction by John W. Aldridge © 1985
Arbor House, 1985  [paper]
409 pages
1954 bestseller #8
My grade: A-

© 2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Youngblood Hawke: Insiders’ peek into the book business

Thomas Wolfe House in Asheville, North Carolina
Thomas Wolfe House in Asheville, North Carolina

Youngblood Hawke is Herman Wouk’s contribution to the shelf of novels by novelists about novelists. The novel has the usual plot complications readers expect as the rube with the typewriter is taken on, taken in, and taken over by shysters.

The story opens with Arthur Youngblood Hawke’s sale of his first novel to Prince House. The novel is promising rather than good.

Art figures he needs to write about seven books before he’ll know his craft. He aims to be first a successful author, then a rich one, living off his investments while he writes great books.

Art invests the income from his books in enterprises from hog futures and commercial real estate to self-publishing. His financial successes and failures are spectacular, but they are never what’s important to him. His world is the pad of lined yellow paper that he fills hour after hour.

Like most other novels about novelists, Youngblood Hawke contrasts the mercenary publishing world with the world of the art. But Wouk’s cast of colorful characters makes clear that the profit motive operates throughout society: even artists have to eat.

And the most tenacious of the followers after fortune may be somebody’s mother.

[Herman Wouk based Youngblood Hawke  on the life of Thomas Wolfe.  The photo above shows the boarding house owned and operated by Wolfe’s mother where Wolfe lived until he went to college.]

Youngblood Hawke: a novel
Herman Wouk
Little, Brown (paper)
© 1962
783 pages
1962 bestseller #4
My grade B+

 

© 2012 Linda Gorton Aragoni
 

Star Money a Depressing Tale of Neurotic Novelist

The star of Kathleen Winsor’s Star Money, Shireen Delaney, is a  disturbed child who grows up to become a hugely successful novelist, disturbing a great many other people in the process.

As a teenager, Shireen was not interested in school or reading. She appeared to have little interest in boys.  Nobody knew about the novels she’d been writing for years.

Within a few months of her marriage to nice, quiet Ed Farrell, however, he goes to the war and all the undiscovered facets of Shireen’s personality burst out.

To relieve the monotony of life alone, Shireen pounds out a novel and has affairs with Ed’s buddies. A New York agent turns Shireen into a celebrity author and becomes the closest thing Shireen has to a friend.

When Ed returns from service, he finds himself a non-entity in his wife’s social circles. Ed packs up and goes back home to L.A., leaving Shireen to face life  alone, with only  her agent, her boyfriends, and thousands of adoring fans for support. If you can believe author Kathleen Winsor, not one of those folks realizes Shireen has a few screws insufficiently tightened.

Winsor babbles about Shireen’s childhood, but show us nothing that could have warped anyone who was not already soft in the psyche.

Save your own psyche. Forget this novel.

Star Money
by Kathleen Winsor
Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1950
442 pages
1950 bestseller # 5
My grade C

© Linda Gorton Aragoni