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

Sexy WWI female spy proves The Pawns Count

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

Where Kim’s Concerned, Viewing Beats Reading

Rudyard Kipling’s Kim is a tale of espionage, intrigue, and duplicity that would make a Tom Clancy novel look sissified—assuming anyone in this century is willing to wade through Kipling’s prose, which reeks of his Victorian-era education.

Kim is the orphan son of an Irish soldier stationed in India. Left under the nominal care of an opium addict, by 12, Kim begs, spies, lies, and steals.

Kim becomes the disciple of a Tibetan lama seeking the river that washes away sin. To earn traveling money, Kim delivers a message to Col. Creighton who is in the British Secret Service. The colonel sees Kim could be very useful.

Because of his soldier father, Kim is entitled to British protection and schooling. Kim spends his holidays tramping around India with his lama and getting involved in espionage.

Kim is packed with adventure, but it’s not exciting reading. The characters are not believable, and Kipling’s ponderous prose sometimes makes it hard even to tell which character is speaking. The stylistic problems are compounded by Kipling’s use of Indian and British idioms and proverbs translated into stuffy 19th century English.

In 1950, Kipling’s 1927 novel was made into a movie starring Errol Flynn. A  British television version 1984 stars Peter O’Toole. Either film version is more entertaining than Kipling’s novel.

Kim
by Rudyard Kipling
1901
Project Gutenberg Ebook #2226