Tag Archives: John Le Carre

Special agents, space travel, Russian warrior women and more: books read.

CHASE by Dan Curtis Johnson and James H. Williams III was a 1998 DC comics series I wish had run longer (though Chase has been bouncing around the DCU ever since). Cameron Chase is an agent for the DEO (yes the inspiration for the one on Supergirl) which covertly watches over the metahuman community. Chase has some issues with the superhero set, but she’s a capable agent who does her job, whether it’s with them or against them; she also has a latent meta-power of her own that allows her to shut down other people’s abilities. The explanation for it was one of the things they never got around to, as well as the mystery about how reformed supervillain Mr. Bones wound up as head of the agency.

This includes the original series plus several short stories from various DC special editions. While I passed it up when it originally came out, I’m happy to have Cameron’s stories in TPB.

John Le Carré’s OUR KIND OF TRAITOR has a vacationing British couple befriended by a burly Russian money launderer who offers to turn over his treasure-trove of Russian Mafia secrets to the authorities if they’ll just get him and his family to England and his son into Eton (one of the prestige private schools) This works best in the opening chapters because of the unusual structure, alternating between the encounter and the couple undergoing grilling by British intelligence. It gets more stock near the end, and particularly in the finish — given Le Carré’s 21st century cynicism, it’s no surprise pervasive British corruption wins out over justice. Overall, though, good, and maybe his only novel where a happy couple live all the way to the end without getting torn apart.

ALPHA CENTAURI OR DIE! is a space opera from Leigh Brackett, without the exotic style of her Martian books (even the hardboiled Nemesis From Terra): with Earth’s oppressive government restricting space flight to robot ships (part of a general policy on controlling everyone’s movements), a pilot leads a group of rebels into space hoping to evade the ships and reach Alpha Centauri. However, after they succeed, it turns out there’s Something Powerful on the planet awaiting them. This is extremely sexist, the colonists’ wives being sniveling and timid without the energy Brackett’s Bad Girls exude; however it’s a good, tense read otherwise and I love the secret of the alien race.

THE UNWOMANLY FACE OF WAR: An Oral History of Women in World War II by Svetlana Alexievich is a spectacular collection of anecdotes by women who fought on the Russian front for various reasons (revenge, patriotism, a desire to be near their husbands) and lived through experiences that while certainly familiar (death, friend’s death, near death, scenes of brutality, rape and harassment) comes off fresh, whether because of the female point of view, the grimness of the Russian front or Alexievich having a good eye for a killer quote. The aftermath of the war was a real mixed bag for the interviewees, including those mired in PTSD, those who say they settled down happily, those who were treated as camp followers by their hometowns; a couple who had their husbands carted off by Stalin for getting captured instead of dying. Very good and a fantastic resource if you wants scenes of violence, starvation in sieges or the sounds of combat (like the constant crack of bones when the fighting gets close enough to hear).

#SFWApro. Cover by J.H. Williams III, bottom cover uncredited. All rights to both remain with current holders.


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John le Carré and Jack Cole: authors read

After the mess of Mission Song, John le Carré returns to form with A MOST WANTED MAN. Issa, the title character, is a Chechen refugee and alleged terrorist who shows up in Germany with a vague hope of starting his life over. Because his corrupt Russian father has ties to British-born German banker Tommy Brue (Tommy’s father handled the guy’s money laundering), Issa’s refugee-rights lawyer Annabelle believes she can talk Tommy into helping Issa. All three of them become the subjects of British and German intelligence efforts, with an eye to using Issa as bait in a scheme to turn a prominent terrorist funder.

Part of what makes it work is that instead of the stock thriller plot that took over Absolute Friends, everything that’s going down seems perfectly plausible: people get deported or their lives ruined simply because they try to help out someone they couldn’t have known is a terrorist, or suspected as a terrorist. Is Issa guitly? It seems unlikely at first but the concluding scenes make it seem possible … maybe. That’s still enough to bring others to disaster. The book is well written and while it does use some stock le Carré tropes (Brue’s ne’er do well father, his failed marriage), they don’t bog the book down. The only real problem is the ending, which feels very ex machina (technically it’s set up earlier, but it still feels forced).

THE PLASTIC MAN ARCHIVES, Vol. 3, continues Jack Cole’s delightful Golden Age run on the stretchable superhero with the same mix of horror and comedy stories found in Vol. 2, all marked by Cole’s loonie visual style. The Gay Nineties Nightmare may be my favorite in this volume: hunting a wanted fugitive, Plas and Woozy discover he’s fled to a town that cut off contact with the rest of the United States after it was left out in the 1900 census. As a result, it’s still frozen in the 1890s (“Gay Nineties” nostalgia had a surge of popularity in the 1940s). Other stories involve body-swappers, bad girls, cities gone mad and other goofiness. A pleasure to reread this one.

#SFWApro. Cover by Jack Cole, all rights remain with current holder.

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International intrigue, overpopulation and spelunking: books read

John LeCarré’s MISSION SONG is the most disappointing novel of his since The Naive and Sentimental Lover. The protagonist, Bruno Salvo, is a Congolese/Irish mixed-race translator with a flair for African languages. A client in British intelligence hires Salvo to attend a conference at which a visionary Congolese leader will build an alliance with Western power players to unite his war-torn country and restore Freedom and Democracy … eventually. When Salvo realizes the conference does not have his people’s interest at heart (which I’m pretty sure anyone who’s read it figured out as fast as I did) he tries to do something about it but runs headlong into the corrupt British forces involved. Just as the last third of Absolute Friends recycled war on terror cliches, this book feels like a Cold War thriller of 60 years ago (just switch out the corrupt business interests for Commies). Even LeCarré’s writing couldn’t hold me on this one.

Robert Bloch’s THIS CROWDED EARTH is set in a dystopian late 20th century world where curing disease and age has led to massive overpopulation: skyscrapers are hundreds of stories high, elevators can take an hour to deliver you (to say nothing of how crowded they are) and having one room to live in is luxurious. The protagonist finally snaps and gets sent to a mental hospital — but with space at such a premium, why does it have private rooms and spacious grounds? Why do the nurses keep jumping his bones? It turns out he’s part of the big and secret plan to save the world, but there are a few bumps along the way …  This comes off less as the dystopian fiction I expected and more a metacommentary on dystopian SF, showing the usual solutions won’t work (we can’t colonize the Solar System to drain off the crowds), the Resistance is half-assed and incompetent and all the predictions about dystopia from the 1950s (this was a late-1950s novel) turned out wrong. Given Bloch’s usual cynicism, I’m surprised he actually offered a happy ending; overall this was more interesting than good, and it’s very sausage fest-ish (two hot nurses and one mom in one scene are all the female presence we get).

In the Silver Age, spelunking adventurer Cave Carson headed an adventure team on the lines of the Sea Devils or the Time Masters but he never got his own series. Nevertheless, he has popped up several times since that era, and finally landed a starring slot with Gerard Way, Jon Rivera and Michael Avon Oeming’s CAVE CARSON HAS A CYBERNETIC EYE: Underground. His glory days over, Cave now works on underground drilling vehicles for the powerful EBX tech and struggles to rein in his rebellious daughter Chloe (Mom, a subterranean princess, has passed away). When it turns out EBX is up to no good, Cave, Chloe and the obscure superhero Wild Dog (yes, the prototype for the guy in Arrow) must work together to save the lost race of Muldoog and stop EBX from unleashing a demonic monster. Hardly up to the level of Way’s Umbrella Academy, but fun as a weird pulpish underground adventure (certainly better than Paul Chadwick’s The World Below).

#SFWApro. Art by Bernard Bailey, all rights remain with current holder.



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From the English Civil War to the War on Terror: Books across time

THE RAVEN’S BANQUET is Clifford Beal’s somewhat disappointing prequel to Gideon’s Angel. In the waning days of the English Civil War, cavalier Richard Treadwell falls into Puritan hands. As he awaits his sentence, he writes down a memoir of his earlier life as an idealistic Protestant mercenary fighting against the Catholic League, only to have his ideals crumble in the face of war’s madness. This is perfectly readable, but just … slight; Treadwell bounces from exploit to exploit with no goal other than surviving another day and learning nothing a lot of historical adventures don’t teach their heroes (the supernatural element is very slight). The constant cutting between the “present” and his youth is distracting too. After the first Treadwell adventure, I’d expected more.

BUNKER HILL: A City, a Siege, a Revolution by Nathaniel Philbrick looks at how Boston’s smoldering resentments with British rule and taxes exploded into armed insurrection in 1775, giving us Lexington, Concord and the misnamed battle of Breed’s Hill (nobody knows for sure why the Yankees made their stand in such a hard-to-defend spot). Very good at showing how chaotic, compromised and improved the birth of America was, and how unclear the patriots were about what they were doing (“They realized it was impossible to charge Benjamin Church with treason, as the legal definition of treason was still betrayal of the king.”).

Lance Morrow’s THE BEST YEAR OF THEIR LIVES: Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon in 1948, Learning the Secrets of Power looks at the year Nixon began his rise with the Alger Hiss hearings, Johnson won his first Senate race and JFK began his battle with Addison’s (which as one reader pointed out hardly justifies the title). Unfortunately Morrow smothers whatever merit the concept had by treating the future presidents more as literary characters than real (JFK’s death is a modern version of the Osiris myth!) and shoehorning their lives to fit his concept of their characters (Nixon was embarrassed and reticent talking about sex, he was reticent admitting his crimes in Watergate — it all fits!). Coupled with Morrow’s fondness for padding (a history of Washington monuments, a history of film noir), this was a waste of paper.

John Le Carré has a fondness for giving stiff, conventional Brit protagonists a bromance with someone flamboyantly edgy, as in Our Game and The Naive and Sentimental Lover. In ABSOLUTE FRIENDS the buddies are half-hearted radical Ted Mundy and genuinely radical German Sasha who meet as left-wing students, then become handler and East German informant. In the present (i.e., 2002), they’re both recruited by a pacifist billionaire who wants to push back against the military industrial complex in the wake of the Iraq war. But there’s more going on than it appears … Unfortunately what’s going on is a stock plot straight out of a conventional thriller (a CIA scheme to trigger a terror attack and thereby justify the war on terror) and I’m tired of Le Carré ending books with a dying protagonist going stream-of-consciousness (as in the preceding novel The Constant Gardener). A weak one for Le Carré.

#SFWApro. All rights to image (source Wikimedia) remain with holder


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A gardener and a sea king: books read

One of the complaints I’ve sometimes seen about John le Carré’s work is that so many of his protagonists have identical troubled, miserable marriages, and that’s pretty accurate (despite exceptions such as The Russia House). Part of what makes THE CONSTANT GARDENER arresting is that the marriage is a happy one despite all the usual warning signs (she’s hot, a lot younger than he is, everyone assumes she’s cheating on him) — although of course we start the story with Justin, a British diplomat in Kenya, learning his wife Tessa has just died. Refusing to believe the official story Justin starts digging and soon discovers Big Pharma and its government allies have been using Kenyans as lab rats for a new drug. Reminiscent of Le Carré’s brooding about corruption in The Tailor of Panama, though slightly more hopeful things can change. Overall excellent, though the scenes where Justin learns about ISPs and computer viruses are horribly antiquated now.

AQUAMAN: Crown of Atlantis by Dan Abnett and various artists is a good follow-up to Black Manta Rising as Aquaman copes with his new popularity in the surface world (“Here come more Aquafans!”), battles an other-dimensional monster and doesn’t notice that Atlantis is starting to get fed up with him. Abnett doesn’t attempt to reinvent the wheel — Aquaman struggling with Atlantean politics is a plot that goes back to the Bronze Age — but they do a solid job and offer entertaining stories.

#SFWApro. Cover image by John Fontana, all rights to image remain with current holder.


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Libraries, bloggers, corrupt bankers and a knightly wordsmith: books (#SFWApro)

THE NIGHT BOOKMOBILE is an uninspired graphic novel from Audrey Niffenegger in which a book-loving woman encounters a mysterious bookmobile that contains every book she’s ever read, and nothing else. And years later, she finds it again … Niffenegger clearly things she has Things To Say about reading, but I wasn’t impressed by this enough to try figuring out what they are. As I didn’t care for the author’s Her Fearful Symmetry either, I wonder if Time-Traveler’s Wife is the only thing of hers that’s going to click with me.

I didn’t care at all for Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim so perhaps it’s not surprising I don’t care for the author’s SNOTGIRL: Green Hair Don’t Care (art by Leslie Hung). The story of a struggling fashion blogger whose a hyper-allergic mess in real life felt like an overly cute version of pretty much every recent TV sitcom about struggling twentysomethings. That isn’t a good thing.

GREEN ARROW: The Death and Life of Oliver Queen by Benjamin Percy and Otto Schmidt ties into DC Rebirth not by bringing back the pre-Flashpoint Green Arrow but by soft-rebooting the bland Flashpoint Ollie (art on his first cover by Dave Wilkins, all rights remain with current holder) into the radical activist version. Which is a great idea, as is bringing back the romance with Black Canary, but story is a flop. I can’t see why Dinah is so down on Ollie using his money for philanthropy (which she implies makes him a hypocrite as he’s rich but helping the poor — no, it doesn’t make any sense). The money laundering underworld bankers are adequate villains, except the story treats “bankers who arrange financing for criminal and terrorist activities” as if it were some breathtakingly new idea. To say nothing of the uninspired nomenclature (a problem for other writers too) — seriously, the bankers fire-burned killers are called The Burned?

For a good story about corrupt bankers, we have John Le Carré’s SINGLE AND SINGLE the story of Oliver Single, former lawyer for his father’s extremely dirty bank. Years ago he walked out on Dad and blew the whistle on him to the British government. Now, though, “Tiger” Single is on the run from very angry Russian mobsters over the loss of their money, so Oliver’s back in to try and save Dad and bring the mobsters down. This comes off as Le Carré reworking the father-son issues of A Perfect Spy for a happier ending; good, although the plot largely vanishes midway through the book.

MALORY: The Knight Who Became King Arthur’s Chronicler by Christina Hardyment appealed to me as I love Malory’s Morte D’Arthur, but lost me early on. Apparently there’s not much definite material about Thomas Malory for Hardyment to work with, so what we get is a constant stream if “it’s quite possible Malory did this” or “Malory might have done that,” which is something I’ll accept in small doses, but here Hardyment’s pulling Malory’s entire life out of the air. Equally annoying, she tries to reverse-engineer his life from his work — Malory wrote about pure romantic love, so obviously he couldn’t possibly have accepted an arranged match. Very unimpressive.


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Super-heroes and black ops: books read (#SFWApro)

BATMAN: Graveyard Shift (by various writers and artists) dis unusual these days in that it offers a series of one-shots rather than a big arc: Clayface tries to discredit Bruce Wayne, we met the first inmate ever committed to Arkham, Catwoman becomes queen of the Gotham underworld and Bruce mourns the death of his son Damien (don’t worry, he got better. They always get better). Individually these were fun, but they still carry enough continuity to be distracting; in one story Gordon has been jailed for something but we get zero explanation (on the one hand, Supporting Character Framed is common enough I don’t need one; on the other it isdistracting). And as others have said, the New 52 Batman having so many sidekicks in a six year career is ridiculous (it also reduces Dick to just one in a series of rotating Robins).

RED HOOD AND THE OUTLAWS: The Big Picture shows the writers are upgrading the power levels: Jason now wields mystic light-sabers and Roy is apparently a super-tech genius. Here again there’s no arc, just a series of stories as Arsenal defeats a criminal army with a screwdriver (more brutal than I like my heroes, though), Arsenal battles Lobo, Red Hood and Starfire take on Frankenstein (the highpoint of the book for me) and the Outlaws’ vacation turns into trouble (“They must be here undercover.”). Fun, but not the A-list — it doesn’t help that R’as al Ghul in the cover image looks like Wolverine.

John Le Carré’s THE TAILOR OF PANAMA is a black comedy inspired by Our Man in Havana (there’s also the in-joke of having the operation labelled “Buchan” for the earlier spy thriller writer) wherein the author’s typical characters have all been replaced by Star Trek‘s Harry Mudd (though admittedly that kind of conman character is hardly new to Le Carré’s works). Pendel is an ex-con who’s reinvented himself as an expat from the upper crust of British tailors; when a spy demands intel on Pendel’s politician-clients as the price for keeping his past secret, the tailor simply makes up whatever bullshit sounds exciting enough. Unfortunately when MI5 and a British press baron learn that Panama’s on the brink of civil war (heroic radicals pitted against a Japanese-backed cabal plotting to exploit the Panama Canal), they can’t sit idly by — and the story becomes more Black than Comedy. With Le Carré’s scathing satire of gullible spymasters, conniving press barons and the supposed “special relationship” between the UK and US, this could easily be a takeoff on the 2003 Iraq War, except it’s seven years too early. Unusual for Le Carré’s work in that Pendel’s marriage is relatively happy; one weakness in the book is that the tailor’s American wife speaks so strangely, I kept thinking she was a non-native English speaker. Overall though, excellent.

2153702SECTION G: United Planets by Mack Reynolds (all rights to cover reside with current holder) collects three short stories set in a future where space flight has enabled every race, culture and  political movement to settle it’s own planet if it so wishes. In a rather Star Trek set up, the United Planets never intervenes in member worlds’ affairs officially, but with an alien invasion looming, Section G specializes in covertly overthrowing governments that won’t get with the program (whether or not Reynolds meant it that way, it’s very reminiscent of the US attitude to governments that weren’t anti-communist enough). Reynolds was well known back in his day for looking at socioeconomic themes rather than just tech; while he does that here, he doesn’t do it as well as I remembered — way too many points made through As You Know exposition, for instance. And while I don’t hold it against the book it’s funny now that writing in the 1960s he assumed Spain’s then-current dictatorship (fascist General Franco) would continue into the future long enough to reach the stars. A touch disappointing.


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John LeCarré, the Vision and Stormwatch: Books Read (#SFWApro)

OUR GAME by John LeCarré is a much broodier post-Cold War novel than Secret Pilgrim as the protagonist, retired spymaster Tim, discovers that not only has his former protégé run off with Tim’s woman and £37 million in embezzled funds, police and British Intelligence suspect Tim of masterminding it. This starts very slow, picks up steam gradually, and never entirely successfully — Tim’s obsessive desire to save his former asset is rationalized by their being inextricably linked at a deep emotional level, but I never bought it. And the LeCarré protagonist tormented by his faithless significant other is almost a cliché. That said, I still found the book  a compelling read, and LeCarré focuses on the problems of Russia’s breakaway states (this involves Chechnya’s neighbor Ingushetia) well before the rest of the world (and he’s clearly disappointed we didn’t get the era of lowered international tensions he was hoping for in Secret Pilgrim).

visionscarletwitch1After the Vision married the Scarlet Witch in the 1970s, the android and the mutant eventually moved to the suburbs and started a family, with the usual problems bedeviling their efforts to be normal (cover by Rick Leonardi, all rights to current holder). In  THE VISION: Little Worse Than a Man by Tom King and Gabriel Hernandez Walta, the android tries it again, but this time with a wife and children he’s apparently built himself. This was more entertaining than I expected, even though I think the earlier version was more interesting — the android-tries-to-be-human shticks here are so familiar, this might as well have been Next Gen’s Data (this may also reflect that this just isn’t my version of the Vision). And the ominous ending frankly struck me as a stretch. So readable, but with a poor aftertaste.

STORMWATCH: The Dark Side by Paul Cornell and Miguel Sepulveda is competently done, but much more unsatisfying. Stormwatch is (so I understand) the New 52 reboot of Wildstorm’s JLA-riff, The Authority, and as several critics have said, it’s hard to see what purpose they serve in the same universe. Sure, they talk a lot about how they’re totally not super-heroes, but they obviously are, so what’s the point? And while Cornell makes the team and its members’ powers clear even to someone who’s never read the original, the character stuff doesn’t work at all: all the struggle and clashing over who’s going to be in charge is quite uninteresting when I don’t know the players (the interactions of Midnight and Apollo, on the other hand, play just fine). So a nice try.

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Hotel desk clerks, race in America and super-schools: books read (#SFWApro)

1735330THE NIGHT MANAGER by John le Carré (cover credits unknown, all rights to current holder) gives us as protagonist Jonathan Pine, a military veteran working quietly in a Swiss hotel. Years ago his efforts to help British intelligence got a woman Pine cared for killed; when the shady millionaire responsible shows up at the hotel, Pine agrees to help British agents bring him down by infiltrating his inner circle. In contrast to the tentative post-Cold War optimism of The Secret Pilgrim, le Carré here is even more cynical than usual, as Pine’s mission is derailed not only by the usual turf wars but corruption, as the bad guy’s plan will line the pockets of many important people. Well written (“His life has consisted of a run of rehearsals for a play he had failed to take part in”) and absorbing, the only flaw is that Pine’s romance with Jeds, the bad guy’s mistress, is really flat and unconvincing.

So after reading a discussion related to our WW II internment of Japanese-Americans, I picked up INFAMY: The Shocking Story of the Japanese-American Internment in World War II by Richard Reeves. While I knew the broad outlines well enough — that despite a complete lack of evidence of any Japanese residents plotting against us, the government interned tens of thousands from a mix of racism, political calculation and greed (vested business interests were happy to get their land or eliminate them as competition)—a lot of the details surprised me, from the effect of the camps on teen social life (in the crowds it was easy to sneak away from parental supervision) to injustices I’d never heard of (like the 2,000 American citizens we traded to Japan in return for American POWs). The kind of story that makes me want to dig up a number of graves and defile the corpses.

ARE ITALIANS WHITE?: How Race Is Made in America is a collection of essays edited by Jennifer Guglielmo and Salvatore Salerno that concludes the answer is yes: while Italians were often considered inferior to Real Americans, there were no serious attempts to class them as colored, so they could gain citizenship, voting rights and other benefits black Americans were denied. The essays discuss the broad and diverse approach of Italians to the race question (from radicals who opposed all forms of racism to people who cemented their claim to be white by dumping on blacks) to individual profiles such as Giancarlo Esposito and his roles in Spike Lee’s films (he argues that Lee actually does a better job capturing Italian-American life than he does black).

GOTHAM ACADEMY: Calamity by Becky Cloonan and Brendan Fletcher has Olive and Maps meeting new student Damian Wayne, encountering a real-live Batboy and learning more about Olive’s super-villain mom, Calamity, than Olive really wants to know. This worked for me better than the first collection, though it’s still not quite to my taste. I am curious if all the villains on the academy staff (Professor Strange, Professor Milo, Kirk Langstrom) mean this is outside regular continuity.

AVENGERS ACADEMY: AvsX: by Christos Gage, Tom Grummett and Timothy Green II has Wolverine drop off some of his students during the Avengers vs. Xmen Big Event so that they won’t get caught up in the crossfire. That, of course, doesn’t work out as well as planned … This is much weaker than the other Academy TPBs, feeling rather like they’re just filling space until the event finishes. That said, it’s still got some good bits—apparently this series can make even a tedious crossover event look entertaining.


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Not much reading/watching done this week (#SFWApro)

No movies, in fact, just books.

SCOTT PILGRIM: Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life is the first volume in Bryan Lee O’Malley’s saga of the eponymous 23-year-old slacker who in this series opener has a high-school girlfriend, falls for a woman his own age (I find it oddly amusing that even fiction about twentysomethings uses the Older/Younger Woman conflict) and then has to battle the first of her Seven Evil Ex-Boyfriends. I think this might have worked for me when I was Scott’s age, but reading now it seems pointless and plotless; the swing from sitcomish storyline to fantasy at the end felt very odd too.

doctorstrange01THE ESSENTIAL DR. STRANGE Vol. 3 (cover by Frank Brunner, all rights to current holder) is a very mixed bag. We start off with Steve Englehart’s run on the title (some of which was in Vol. 2), including Strange’s battle with the fanatical witch-hunter Silver Dagger, the destruction of the universe (and Strange’s horrified reaction to being the only one who remembers it is great) and the beginning of Stephen Strange exploring the occult history of America. All good, but then we jump to Marv Wolfman’s time on the title, and much as I like Wolfman’s work elsewhere, his writing here and his retconning away much of the Englehart run were sub-par. Things pick up as Jim Starlin takes over and ends reasonably well as Roger Stern begins his long run on the book. For me, worth getting for the good parts.

THE TEA ENTHUSIAST’S HANDBOOK: A Guide to Enjoying the World’s Best Teas by Mary Lou and Robert J. Heiss was one I picked up with a birthday gift certificate (TYG having already bought me a wide selection of tea for her big gift). Unlike my other two books on tea, this is less a history and more about how to select it, how to steep, the merits of the different main kinds (black, green, white, yellow, oolong and pur-en-ah), and some of the well-known varieties of each. The book is a bit tea-snobby, and I frankly don’t think my palate is good enough to make use of some of these suggestions; on the other hand, paying more attention to steeping time and to water temperature has produced notably better drinks for me. Of course if you don’t drink tea, you might as well skip this.


Coming out in 1990, THE SECRET PILGRIM appears to be John LeCarre’s retrospective on the Cold War, as Ned — a supporting character in The Russia House now working as a spy-trainer — finds George Smiley’s speech to the troops triggering flashbacks to stories of gay colleagues, the arch-traitor Bill Haydon (of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy), Smiley giving away cufflinks and Ned’s own miserable marital history (in the tradition of all LeCarre heroes to date). This is less a novel than a collection of themed shorts, the theme being the way unfortunates get ground up in the Great Game and whether it was really worth it (Smiley points out it was ultimately the Russians who broke their own system, not us prodding from outside). Not A-list LeCarre, but good reading.


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