626

Re: Last Book Read...

I've been reading the astonishingly prescient A Very British Coup by Chris Mullen.

Published in 1983, it basically anticipates the rise of Jeremy Corbyn, even the method by which he is made Labour leader. The 'what if' story documents what might happen if a Labour 'extremist' (though he actually seems a pretty basic, decent bloke) were to actually win power and become Prime Minister, and how the Establishment would react and secretly pull strings to bring him down.

I've got hold of a library copy and at the end of it someone (not me) has scrawled in red biro "Good luck Corbyn, you're going to need it."

"This is where we leave you Mr Bond."

Roger Moore 1927-2017

627

Re: Last Book Read...

Red sparrow by Jason Matthews

First a thank you to the local library  ajb007/smile
When I asked for this book they didn't have it, so they got me the only copy available in libraries nationally. When I was finished reading Red Sparrow I asked for the other books in the trillogy, "Palace of trason" and "Kremlin's Canidate". The library decided that since the trillogy had such good reviews, it's rarity in the library system and since I wanted it they would buy the books. How nice of them!


The novels are written by a former CIA agent, Jason Matthews. The novel was reviewed in the CIA's website and the discriptions of the tradecraft and the invirorment was compared to le Carre. The main character is Dominika Egorova, an elite ballet dancer who also has the abilty to see people's nature and feelings in colours. This is a form of synesthesia and it's aparently a real thing. An injury cuts her dancing career short and her FSB uncle recruits her as an agent and (this is creepy for an uncle) as a 'sparrow', an agent who uses sex and seduction in her work. The Americans have a highly placed source codenamed 'Marble' in the FSB. Marble's handler is the CIA officer Nate Nash.
While there is more descriptions of sex than in many espionage novels, this is a complex thriller with a very good plot. Dominika is an interesting hero and worth following.
I nice detail is that a a type of food is mentioned in every chapter and the the recipe is printed at the end of the chapter.

The novel is filmed with Jennifer Lawrence as Dominika. I liked the movie. The moviemakers wisely dropped the synesthesia and Dominika's way into the FSB and Sparrow School is actually more convincing in the movie. The novel has other qualities and I look very much forward to reading the copy of "Palace of treason" sitting on my desk.

628

Re: Last Book Read...

Interesting, Number 24. . .just tonight I saw the movie and I was wondering what the novel is like.  I didn't realize it was the start of a trilogy.  I'll keep an eye out, but my time to read for pleasure is scant indeed. . .

Vox clamantis in deserto

629

Re: Last Book Read...

Number24 wrote:

Red sparrow by Jason Matthews

First a thank you to the local library  ajb007/smile
When I asked for this book they didn't have it, so they got me the only copy available in libraries nationally. When I was finished reading Red Sparrow I asked for the other books in the trillogy, "Palace of trason" and "Kremlin's Canidate". The library decided that since the trillogy had such good reviews, it's rarity in the library system and since I wanted it they would buy the books. How nice of them!


The novels are written by a former CIA agent, Jason Matthews. The novel was reviewed in the CIA's website and the discriptions of the tradecraft and the invirorment was compared to le Carre. The main character is Dominika Egorova, an elite ballet dancer who also has the abilty to see people's nature and feelings in colours. This is a form of synesthesia and it's aparently a real thing. An injury cuts her dancing career short and her FSB uncle recruits her as an agent and (this is creepy for an uncle) as a 'sparrow', an agent who uses sex and seduction in her work. The Americans have a highly placed source codenamed 'Marble' in the FSB. Marble's handler is the CIA officer Nate Nash.
While there is more descriptions of sex than in many espionage novels, this is a complex thriller with a very good plot. Dominika is an interesting hero and worth following.
I nice detail is that a a type of food is mentioned in every chapter and the the recipe is printed at the end of the chapter.

The novel is filmed with Jennifer Lawrence as Dominika. I liked the movie. The moviemakers wisely dropped the synesthesia and Dominika's way into the FSB and Sparrow School is actually more convincing in the movie. The novel has other qualities and I look very much forward to reading the copy of "Palace of treason" sitting on my desk.

For me one of the greatest espionage books I've ever read, whilst the film was ok I felt the book was far superior.

630

Re: Last Book Read...

It's a really good spy thriller. But in spite of all his knowledge and traveling the author is convinced Finland is in Scandinavia  ajb007/lol

631

Re: Last Book Read...

re Flashman

Napoleon Plural wrote:

...a lot of the enjoyment comes from Fraser's footnotes, making it clear (sometimes with a tad too much self regard perhaps) just how closely the events described matches the historical record. That is lost when you film the books as one romp after another.

I've been thinking Flashman is probably a very unreliable narrator, and Fraser's tone in those footnotes is a bit of a gag as well.
Flashman tells us right off he is a liar as well as a coward, and in his interactions with other characters is perpetually misrepresenting himself. That's how he got to be a decorated hero in the fist place, and he is continuously building on those lies all through his adventures, enjoying the undeserved rewards and evading the consequent responsibilities. I don't think it would ever occur to him to tell the truth.

So why are we believing any of his memoirs? The footnotes confirm the places he claims to have been and the people he claims to have met were all there more or less at the times he describes, but they never provide any confirmation there was ever a man named Harry Flashman, despite the hundreds of historic records cited. (aside from Tom Brown's Schooldays)

So presuming some of it is "true" and some of it lies, what bits are most likely to be lies? All the stuff with the women, for starters. That's what lads always lie about when talking to other lads. Flashman claims to have slept with something like a thousand women, which even for a real lad's lad seems a bit unlikely. Every queen or empress he encounters tears his clothes off within minutes, but nobody else ever finds out? In Flashman's Lady there is a bit where he is thrown clear of a naval battle just as it gets dangerous, flies through a roof, right into the middle of a harem, where he is spontaneously molested by the ladies within even as the battle rages just inches away on the other side of the wall.

Of course we know the whole thing is a very clever lie on Fraser's part, that's why its called fiction. But assuming there is a fictional level of reality that we believe as authentic while we read, some of the things our narrator I telling us must be more or less "real" than others.

632

Re: Last Book Read...

Perhaps a Flashman TV series could have the elderly Flashman as the narrator, sitting in a gentleman's club telling his heroic tales. Most of the episodes are shown as flashbacks (Flashmanbacks?  ajb007/biggrin ). Sometimes we hear Flashman narrate his glorious adventures whe we see what "really"" happened on the screen?

633

Re: Last Book Read...

I recently read two early John le Carre books:

the Spy Who Came in from the Cold
this is a tightly structured tragedy, with our hero Alec Leamas dutifully serving his country only to find he is the one being played through levels within levels of deception. It all builds up to an inevitable punch on the last page that really hurts when it comes, yet has been foreshadowed plainly since the beginning of the story. It's just that as a reader I want to trust the good guys, and probably you do too, that's why it works.
There is some nice narrative sleight-of-hand, we watch Leamas reinvent his identity before he returns to East Germany, yet are not told what he is doing, so as far as we know he is indeed an unsympathetic selfdestructive character. Theres is no internal monolog or exposition to tell us different. If we cant trust our protagonist to be who he seems, why should we trust the supporting characters he works for?

The Looking Glass War
This is more of a satire, a bit like some of Graham Greene's stuff. There is a leftover espionage department from WWII, old guys wallowing in nostalgia, and the Circus would like to be rid of them, though that motive is only ever shown to us in hints. We see it all from the point of view of these nostalgic old guys, going back into action one more time, clueless as to why their phony passports are getting cancelled or why they are being given heavy out of date radio equipment.
The bit where their agent finally crosses the border is very scary, a sudden change of tone where the old guys fantasy world suddenly becomes real for one sucker, while they continue to pat themselves on the back on the safe side of the border.


Smiley and Control are only seen in brief glimpses in both books. Although Smiley was a normal protagonist in Call for the Dead, in these next few books he is a largely unseen assistant puppetmaster. He is the nice one, he seems to actually care for these people being manipulated. Control is his boss, and he's the real cynic, coldly making the choices that doom countrymen who trust him, so as to succeed in a larger game which is not part of the story  being told.

634

Re: Last Book Read...

Number24 wrote:

Perhaps a Flashman TV series could have the elderly Flashman as the narrator, sitting in a gentleman's club telling his heroic tales. Most of the episodes are shown as flashbacks (Flashmanbacks?  ajb007/biggrin ). Sometimes we hear Flashman narrate his glorious adventures whe we see what "really"" happened on the screen?

yes I think that would work.
This conceit of the "packets" posthumously discovered by the "editor" works in prose, it's a variation of old narrative structure called the "epistolary novel"

such a narrative device would look stuffy onscreen, but your idea of a blowhard telling tall tales in his Gentlemens Club would be much more visual. The actor playing Flashman would have to be a real charmer anyway, annoying yet compelling nonetheless, everybody in the club (and watching along at home) would want to hear his neverending sagas of selfglorification despite not particularly liking him.

635

Re: Last Book Read...

Bulldog Drummond
by Sapper (H. C. McNeile), 1920

It's taken me most of a lifetime to find a copy of this book!
Amis mentions Bulldog Drummond as an influence on Fleming in his Dossier, and I remember he was not complimetary. Most latterday commentators focus on the xenophobia, without telling us anything else about the story.
This book should sit on the spy-lit fan's shelf alongside John Buchan's Richard Hannay novels, and Leslie Charteris' The Saint. But whereas the 39 Steps gets filed under literature, and random volumes of The Saint are not hard to find, I've never actually come across a Bulldog Drummond before. My bookshop had it filed under D, as if Drummond was the author and "Sapper" the title.

This is fun stuff, an easy entertaining read. Fighting spies is good sport, and everybody has a good laugh as the evil foreigners meet their fate at the hands of the very unofficial Drummond.
The story: Drummond is a young vet of WWI, now sitting round London bored, so he places an ad in the paper looking for adventure, and quickly becomes entangled in a scheme to provoke a Communist Revolution in Britain, to the advantage of the plots' sponsors: Industrial interests in Germany and the United States (i.e Communism is itself a Capitalists' conspiracy).
His rapport with ladyfriend Phyllis Benton is very similar to Simon Templar's with Patricia Holm. Benton calls Drummond "boy" as they laugh about their fun plans to fight dangerous spies, just as Holm addresses Templar. But Drummond and Benton came first.
His rapport with the evil mastermind Carl Peterson is exactly like that episode of Seinfeld where Kramer tried to match wits with Elaine's psychiatrist the Svenjolly. Or perhaps more familiarly, James Bond and Dr No debating fine wines and the philosophy of power over a nice dinner. Then following the oh so polite chit-chat he breaks a few bones.

Apparantly there were nine sequels, then another writer continued the series after Sapper's death.

636

Re: Last Book Read...

Is Sapper a military combat engineer?

637

Re: Last Book Read...

Når landet mørknar by Tore Kvæven


I'm going to review a book that hasn't been translated into English or any other language as far as I know. But it will be translated to several languages for sure and hopefully English too. I guess the title will be "When the land darkens", but who knows? The author has published one viking-themed novel earlier (With really good reviews) and one novel for children. I worked at the same office as the author for two years and we are friends. He likes to to write while hiking or skiing, since nature gives him solitude and inspiration.


https://gfx.nrk.no/ilCDlfzazV60vXcpaaAY7get-yq1zuOIkdmT2KeHlWhQ

From the publisher:

The year is 1293. Arnar Vilhjálmsson, a young boy, is rowing out on his first walrus hunt. After the hunt, a girl stands before him. She looks down at the beast he has slain, her eyes full of defiance, and her words full of scorn. Then she turns and runs away from him, without looking back. Her name is Eir.

In the Norsemen’s Western Settlement, on Greenland, a sense of unease has been creeping in. The walrus that gave the settlers their wealth have been retreating. The ships that used to sail from Norway and Iceland to trade there have become few and far between. The Greenlanders’ own vessels are rotting. The people are wondering: is this the end?

Arnar dreams of one day building his own ship and sailing towards the lands further west, seeking timber, iron and hope for the future. Eir is part of that dream. In this quest for a future, Arnar is even willing to defy his own chieftain, gods, and the laws of men.


"Når landet mørknar" takes place in Greenland at the end of the thirtheenth century in the Norse colony there. The culture is in decline and during the next two hundred years the Norse colony mysteriously vanishes completely. At the time of the novel some of the people living in the farms in the  inland valleys still worshiped Odin and Thor, but the majority are Christian. The protagonist is the young farmer Arnar who is in love with the Christian girl Eir in a sort of Romeo and Juliet situation. The novel is writen from several points of view, including that of animals. When was the last time you read a chapter written from the POW of a walrus? It works surprisingly well and the book is written in a style that both lyrical and brutal. I hope they find first-rate translators. Sidenote: There are two written forms of Norwegian: Bokmål is used by the majority and is influenced by Danish and the dialects urban areas, especially around Oslo. Nynorsk is influenced by the many dialects and old Norse. Tore uses a conservative version of Nynorsk. Other than Icelandic this is the closest you can get to Old Norse today.
The reviews are among the best for any novel this year and it's one out of four nominees for the major litterary award in Norway. If you like good litterature and have an interest in vikings, keep an eye out for the name Tore Kvæven in the bookstores.

https://www.bokklubben.no/servlet/VisBildeServlet?produktId=15466138&width=400

Last edited by Number24 (20th Nov 2018 20:31)

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Re: Last Book Read...

My friend won the Brage Litterary Award  ajb007/biggrin

639

Re: Last Book Read...

Palace of Treason by Jason Matthews (second book in the Red Sparrow trillogy)


The trillogy about Dominika Egorova of the Russian SVR and Nate Nash from the CIA. I won't say much more about them and the relationship between them because some might not have read the first book in the trillogy. What I can say is that Dominika is a graduate of the SVR Sparrow School where agents learn to manipulate people emotionally and sexually. She is born with the ability to see people's emotions in colours and in The Palace of Trason she can also see and hear the "ghosts" of people close to her who dies. Strangely, I think it this works. In every Chapter some meal is mentioned and the recipe is at the end of the chapter. It's a nice feature, but sometimes it gets too convoluted and unnatural.
The author is a former CIA agent and the plot and spycraft is very impressive. Unlike John le Carre, another ex- agent who uses his experience in  his novels, there is hardly any grey areas here. Doninika and Nash are good and heroic and their adversaries are plain evil. Even Fleming was less simplistic at times. Vladimir Putin was in the first book too, but then we barely saw him and only in situations one could reasonably assume how he would act. Now he is more involved in the plot and we meet him in private situations and the author tries to get inside his head. You may like or dislike this side of the book, but I think most will agree it's problematic. But the writing is good, the plot is convincing and exiting, the characters are interesting and The Palace of Trason is a very noteworthy book in the spy genere.

640

Re: Last Book Read...

A Small Town in Germany
John le Carre
The first one without Smiley or the Circus lurking in the background.

An investigation into a defector from the British embassy in Bonn. The defector is never actually seen, but we are told his story from the point of view of many different acquaintances who work in the embassy, Rashomon style. The various character's stories amount to a satire of Embassy life, in which polite diplomacy outweighs right and wrong, and the reality of a defector is an embarrassment that disrupts the pleasantries of the dinner party circuit.

The book was published 1968, against the backdrop of real world student protests and Britain's attempts to enter the Common Market (which alone makes it a bit odd to read in these Brexit-y times). Some reviews suggest it is meant to take place in the then-near future, as a populist political party rising in Germany deliberately aggravates grievances against Britain and may portend a return to fascism.

As with a couple of his other novels, the last chapter suddenly turns into something much more horrific before suddenly coming to an end. I like the way le Carre tells a small scale story in the foreground of his books, while something much more sinister is going on in the background, unappreciated by the protagonists until the last page.

641

Re: Last Book Read...

Anthony James - Acting My Face. (starred in Naked Gun 2, The A-Team, Clint Eastwood movies) great read.

"You're in the wrong business... leave it to the professionals!"
James Bond- Licence To Kill

642

Re: Last Book Read...

Jo Nesbø's next novel in the Harry Hole series will be in bookstores on Thursday. The English title will probably be "Knife" and I'm really looking forward to reading it  ajb007/smile

643

Re: Last Book Read...

Number24 wrote:

Jo Nesbø's next novel in the Harry Hole series will be in bookstores on Thursday. The English title will probably be "Knife" and I'm really looking forward to reading it  ajb007/smile

I’ll be buying it at some point...hope it’s an improvement on his last...

YNWA: Justice For The 96

The Joy Of 6

644

Re: Last Book Read...

The first reviews are in for "Knife" and they are positive. In this country many reviews are rated 1-6 and Knife looks like a 5.

645

Re: Last Book Read...

Number24 wrote:

The first reviews are in for "Knife" and they are positive. In this country many reviews are rated 1-6 and Knife looks like a 5.

Read the blurb for it the other day...sounded promising....

YNWA: Justice For The 96

The Joy Of 6

646

Re: Last Book Read...

Marvel Epic Collection: Thor the God of Thunder
by Stan Lee Jack Kirby and others
a nice big fat trade paperback compiling all the earliest Thor and Tales of Asgard stories from Journey Into Mystery 83 (Aug 1962) through 109 (Oct 1964)
the answer to the age-old question "when does Thor get good?" lies within!
https://dynamic.indigoimages.ca/books/0785188355.jpg?altimages=false&scaleup=true&maxheight=515&width=380&quality=85&lang=en
the Mighty Thor was originally created by Lee and Kirby in the same concentrated burst of activity following Fantastic Four 1 that also quickly gave us SpiderMan, the Hulk, Iron Man, the X-Men and all those other characters the whole world now knows so well.
I suspect the character was mostly Kirby's idea, as he had featured characters named Thor as oneshot villains in various comics over the decades, and in the early 1940s drawn a strip called Mercury or Hurricane, featuring a pantheon of Greek gods.


In his earliest appearances Thor is basically the old Captain Marvel/Billy Batson/Shazam concept, with lame Doctor Don Blake trading places with the God of Thunder each time he strikes his walking stick, yet sharing a conciousness. These earliest stories follow a very generic structure, of fighting costumed bank robbers and worrying Nurse Jane Foster will find out his secret identity.
Eventually Thor would become all-Asgard all the time, and the vehicle for Kirby to express his wildest visual and conceptual imagination, but it took a couple of years to get there.

Kirby only drew the earliest appearances here, including the debut of Loki in the third story, then left to concentrate on other responsibilities. Most of the early stories are drawn by Al Hartley (better known for romance comics), Joe Sinnott (who would ink Kirby's pencils in the best Fantastic Four stories), and Iron Man's Don Heck. None of them have Kirby's imagination and I doubt they co-plotted the story concepts way Kirby would do. Worse, the stories themselves are scripted not by Stan, but by his brother Larry Lieber. So in the first two years, it was second tier talent creating Thor, which is why it is so generic and not the Thor we know.


In Journey into Mystery 97 (oct 1963) Lee and Kirby intoroduce the backup feature Tales of Asgard, which is where things start getting interesting. The backup is always five pages, four huge panels to a page, to showcase Kirby's wild artwork, telling actual episodes of Norse mythology, explorations of neighbouring realms, fleshing out the evergrowing cast of Asgardians and revealing Thor and Loki's backstories.

The main stories remain generic imitation Superman plots for a few more issues, til Journey into Mystery 101 (feb 1964), where Lee and Kirby return for good. Instantly the earthbased presentday adventures of Thor become weird and unpredictable, incorporating the new concepts from the backup series, and taking on more epic tone.
(Probably by no coincidence, Lee and Kirby's return is the same month as the first issue of the Avengers, which of course also featured Thor.)
This volume ends just a few issues after that point, just as it is finally starting to get good. I know the Earth-based stories and boring old Jane Foster disappear entirely two years later, in Thor 136 (jan 1967), so it is a gradual evolution in storytelling. It just kept getting more and more cosmic after that until Kirby finally left the title, and Marvel, after Thor 179 (aug 1970).


check out Mike's Newsstand, one of my favourite websites, where you can query the database to see the cover of every comic published any month since 1933, or every issue of a series. Here are all the covers of every issue of Journey into Mystery/Thor.

Last edited by caractacus potts (13th Jul 2019 14:37)