Tag: 2013

Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews

June 24th, 2013 — 11:11pm

Red SparrowThe Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews  –  The Sparrow School is a school for specialized training of selected Russian spies in the art of sexual seduction which becomes helpful in recruiting people to betray their government and work for Russia. One of the central  characters of this book did go through this school although this is not the main emphasis of this true to life spy story. It is true to life because the author, Jason Matthews, like John La Carre, Ian Flemming and other well known writers did serve as an agent but not for the British as they did, or for the Russians, but for the Americans. He worked for the CIA for 33 years having postings all over the world, being a station chief in several countries and by his own admission recruiting double agents and training many of his junior colleagues in the art of spycraft. The details of carrying out espionage in a foreign country or trying to catch a traitor in your own country apparently requires meticulous attention to detail, complicated dead end drops, surveillance, counter- surveillance, studying everyone and every thing in the street, parks or alleys  around you , looking for people who might be looking for you, taking circuitous routes, doubling back, using parallel patterns of following targets, making “fish-hook” changes in direction and being a master of code words and code messages. There are hidden video cameras and microphones, special transmitters that shoot signals to satellites. There are agents from both sides that try to recruit each other and there are moles deep in the government of  one side or the other. Yet the story rings true not only because the author lived in this world but because we all know from the newspapers and television something about this history of the real world of espionage that continues even after the end of the so called “cold war”. Matthews does more than present us with authenticity. He also shows us his ability to write and capture images that imprint in the reader’s imagination. Here is a passage which the author is setting up an important event.

Thick and ragged as a  plug of surgical cotton from the the box, the fog occasionally licked up over the roadway of the bridge.  The lamps along the bridgeway came on and caught the fog, blowing right to left making it seem as if the bridge itself were moving on casters along the riverbank.

His passages, which included people  were even more vivid such as the description of a guy being murdered with a wire on his neck as he had sex with an female agent who had no idea this was going to happen. While the book had its share of blood there was much more an exploration of the motivation that allows people to make decisions to become a traitor and allow themselves to be turned. The acronym MICE is one example; money, ideology, conscience and ego. There are several characters that we come to understand (or think that we do), twists and turns, page turning or Kindle clicking tension and some inside insight into the world of spies. We also have a new successful writer on the scene. I understand he is working on his next story. This one his first, could lend itself to a sequel.  (2013)

Comment » | FT- Fiction Thriller

Inferno by Dan Brown

June 12th, 2013 — 6:01pm

InfernoInferno by Dan Brown (2013). I picked up this book (on my Kindle) after it had just become number one on the NewYork Times Best Seller List. I suspect it will be there for a long time as Dan Brown’s previous best seller Da Vinci Code was Number one for 40 weeks, on the list for 166 weeks and sold 80 million copies. The main character from that book Dr. Robert Langdon, Harvard Professor of Art and Symbolism, is the center of attention of the latest thriller as is Dante, the city of Florence and related subjects. If I were to read a book set in New York, LA, San Francisco  or D.C and it used the nooks and crannies with which I was more or less familiar as the basis of a hide and seek, life and death scavenger hunt,  that would add to my pleasure of the experience. However, this story goes into exquisite detail of so many churches, monuments, museums special rooms, works of art, secret passages mostly in the city of Florence, Italy. Even though I briefly visited that city less than a year ago I had no familiarity with most of them. I tried to zip through the detailed descriptions of these places and stay with the fascinating story line. Similarly, although I had read Dante’s Inferno many years ago while in college, the secret meaning in the passages which was an important part of this story could have come from the  Captain Midnight Decoder ring from my youth. Nevertheless, the premise of the of the book was riveting in that it brought into focus the fact that our planet is on a collision course with extinction by the unrelenting growth of our population. At some  point in the not too distant future, we will not be able to sustain ourselves. This raises scientific, ethical and moral issues. We are introduced to the idea that there could be futurists or what are called Transhumanists that would support a radical solution to this dilemma. The book is filled with twists and turns along with some big surprises.  Not only are we on the edge of our seats to see how the characters of this story deal with the immediate and future life threatening issues but in the end we come away pondering the questions which are raised. We also hear the words of Dante echoing in our mind as he said, “The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis.”

Comment » | FM - Fiction Mystery

Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris

June 2nd, 2013 — 5:38pm

Let's Explore Diabetes With OwlsLet’s Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris (2013) – As far as I can recall there was nothing in this book about diabetes and just a tidbit about owls. David Sedaris is a 56 year old American humorist, comedian and writer who has written numerous autobiographical books like this latest one which have made him a best selling author. He lives mostly in Europe with his partner Hugh Hamrick and travels around the world including the United States where he reads his material frequently before it is published to test it on audiences before putting it in final form in his books.  To me he comes across as an interesting, mildly humorous guy who tells good stories, in the form of narrative essays, about his life and people that he has met. He related that he has been keeping a diary for at least 30 years starting when he was in his 20s. He will jot down notes during the day and then later diligently write up his diary entries. He did admit that that there probably is some truth to accusation that he is so busy recording his observations that he doesn’t so much live in the moment. An example how he will turn a conversation or an observation into a “piece” for his book is when he heard someone remark that today there is someone alive who will live to be 200 years old. This led him to reflect on what kind of condition would that person be in. He then concluded that it would be his father who would live that long…and he would have to take care of him for more than 100 years. In a related piece he reviewed how his father had been nagging him for 25 years to get a colonoscopy. He then went into detail about how he finally got one and what that experience was like. (It was funny of course). As far as I can tell he doesn’t have a compelling narrative  and is not a hilarious comedian. His reflections are interesting and usually bring about a good feeling or a smile. Taken all together his writing is probably a decent social commentary of our time but at least, this book is on the light side. He would probably be someone you want to read when you are in-between heavy books or genres or just want a pleasant read.

Comment » | AM - Autobiography or Memoir, H - Humor

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