SMILEY’S PEOPLE was John LeCarre’s farewell to George Smiley as the Circus calls him back to clean up the mess left when a Soviet defector (whose ominous warnings were blithely ignored) winds up shot in the street. Smiley discovers the man’s claims of an intelligence coup were spot-on; tracing his activities for the past few years leads to the discovery of Soviet spymaster Karla’s one weakness, which Smiley ruthlessly exploits. LeCarre says in the intro that he’d planned several more Smiley/Karla novels, but realized he couldn’t write the stories he wanted to with a protagonist who “despite his misgivings always did the job, even if he had to leave his conscience at the door. This book makes for excellent reading, though, so I’m glad Smiley got such a fine chance to bow out.
CHASING GIDEON: The Elusive Quest for Poor People’s Justice by Karen Houppert looks at how the right to have a public defender works in practice and concludes that it’s not working out the way the landmark Gideon vs. Wainwright case said it should. Houppert looks at cases in Washington state, Miami, Louisiana and Georgiato show appointed attorneys are invariably underpaid, not to mention compromised by politics and cronyism (Louisiana judges often appoint their court’s PD), corruption, incompetence (one PD requesting a genetic test wrote it as “D and A test”) and the sheer volume of cases resulting from the war on drugs and increasingly harsher sentences. Houppert has no particular solution to offer, but it makes compelling reading nonetheless. It also sheds some interesting history on the original Gideon.
MADNESS: A Brief History by Roy Porter looks at the way insanity has been studied, explained and treated through the centuries, from the view of it as a form of possession, sin (since in rejecting reason, we rejected God’s Great Gift), brain damage, bacterial infection and imbalance in the humors. The questions of how we treat and confine the loonies have been almost as varied, as have the question of defining them and the perennial efforts to prove that genius and madness are somehow linked. Not an in-depth study, but I don’t know that I’d have wanted one.
BPRD HELL ON EARTH: The Long Death and the Devil’s Engine by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi and others, squeezes together two different miniseries. In one, the BPRD’s Devon goes into the field to bring back Feenix, a psychic who seems to know something about the chaotic world they’re now living in (I’m guessing with the roster trimmed so muh, she’ll be a new teammate); in the other, the ectoplasmic agent Joachim confronts Capt. Daimio, now a were-jaguar, and resolves some old issues. Okay installments, but neither one a standout.
LOBSTER JOHNSON: The Burning Hand by Mgnola, Arcudi and Tonci Zonjic is chronologically the first appearance of the vigilante Lobster, as he stumbles into a gangwar involving phony ghost Indians, an Eastern mystic and a woman reporter. Lively, though as the reporter notes, the Lobster doesn’t do welll here.
The chronologically later but earlier published LOBSTER JOHNSON: The Iron Prometheus by Mignola and Jason Armstrong is a stronger story and more integral to the Hellboy-universe mythos, as the Lobster goes up against the mystic Memnan Saa in a fight over the lost secrets of Hyperborea. The Lobster comes off more competent here (though punching way out of his weight class), though Saa is a stock Sinister Oriental (knowing he’s actually a British occultist doesn’t change the imagery).
JACK STAFF: Soldiers by Paul Grist was the first color collection of the series (following Everything Used to be Black and White) revealing how Jack hung up his hat 20 years ago after a cataclysmic battle with British living weapon Capt. Hurricane (like Albion, portrayed here as a Hulk-type berserker). Only now the energies unleashed by defeating the Hurricane are resurfacing and driving everyone around to fits of rage. A bit more linear storytelling would have helped, but good overall.