Murderers, famine and spies in this week’s reading

Having enjoyed HF Heard’s A Taste for Murder (adapted into the TV episode The Sting of Death) I finally ordered a copy of the second “Mr. Mycroft” book, REPLY PAID. Here, Silchester, the twitty narrator of the first book, has leveled up: he now works in Los Angeles solving ciphers and codes for private individuals; despite being a 1942 novel there’s no suggestion of working for the military or any acknowledgement of the war at all. When he tackles one cryptic message for a client, Mycroft (a pseudonym used by a still-under-copyright Sherlock Holmes, not his brother Mycroft) turns up and warns Silchester the code is a clue to a radioactive deposit that the client is willing to kill for (Heard’s description of chain reactions is amusingly off). The mystery here isn’t half as engaging as the killer bees of the first book, and it became a struggle to finish.

HUNGER by Jackie Morse Kessler is a Y/A about a teenage anorexic forced to assume the role of Famine in the Horsemen of the Apocalypse as the price for Death averting her suicide attempt. Anorexic Lisa feels this is ridiculous — she loves food! Doesn’t he realize how much discipline it took her to stop eating a single French fry on her date that evening? — but inflicting the horror of famine on the world soon puts her own mental problems in a different light, not to mention giving her a strong wish to break the deal.

Kessler does a good job capturing Lisa’s delusional sense of her bloated self and doesn’t pretend beating her illness will be easy. I’m also pleased that she doesn’t try to get clever or satirical with famine, showing instead that for millions of people food insecurity is a life and death issue. The ending, however, still disappointed me, though I won’t give any spoilers. In case you’re wondering, the Teen Titans cover here is for a story where the Titans also battle the four riders.

Kim Philby, legendary Soviet mole in British intelligence, is one of those people I know of but not about which led me to pick up A SPY AMONG FRIENDS: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal by Ben Macintyre. The book looks at the double agent through the prism of his friends — Philby, a charmer, had many — particularly his BFF Nicholas Elliott, who met Philby in WW II and remained blind to his duplicity for the next two decades (John Le Carré interviewed Elliott in The Pigeon Tunnel, a meeting also printed in the back of Macintyre’s book).

Macintyre shows that MI6 in that era was too much a tight circle of friends, the Right Sort recruited from the Right Schools and therefore quite above suspicion. A good, dramatic tale with some odd six degrees of kinship (Peter Ustinov and the drummer for the Police both had parents who moved through Elliott and Philby’s orbit).

#SFWApro. Cover by Nicholas Cardy, all rights remain with current holder.

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