Sunday, February 05, 2006

Good News For Charles McCarry Fans: A Review Of “Old Boys”

For those of you who are already fans of espionage writer Charles McCarry, I have great news. McCarry has been coaxed out of retirement and has written a riveting novel in “Old Boys.” For those of you who have yet to sample the delights of McCarry’s prose, I have good news for you, as well. You have the opportunity to introduce yourself to the pleasures of reading the offerings of this former undercover CIA agent while he is still producing new works.

In a nice twist of art imitating life and life imitating art, the premise of this story is that a motley assemblage of former intelligence community operatives has been coaxed out of retirement to confront the global threat of a fanatical leader in the Middle East who has acquired weapons of mass destructions. The daunting challenge that faces these superannuated “formers” or “Old Boys” is to find the tactical nuclear weapons that have disappeared from the weapons arsenal of the former Soviet Union and destroy the cache of bombs before they can be used by the madman who has acquired them. At the same time, the “Old Boys” must identify and avoid enemies – internal and external – scattered across the globe, while simultaneously trying to find their former colleague who may or may not have died in a remote Chinese prison camp. In McCarry’s capable hands, this serpentine story slithers along in a most satisfying and sinuous manner.

McCarry is an artist when it comes to painting pictures with words – much in the style of John Le Carre. His language soars like the rare Saker falcon whose predatory peregrinations represent both a part of the narrative of this story and serve as a metaphor for the treachery of terrorists and would-be terrorists. McCarry, exercising “fictive falconry,” grabs the reader in the talons of his talent for telling tales with tortuous trajectories. And, as in the case with falconry in the field, at the end of the day, the combatants in McCarry’s story shed blood and ruffle feathers.

Let me share some brief examples of the word pictures that McCarry evokes.

"I decided to skip the Novotel and went instead to a hotel recommended by my taxi driver. The ride through Manaus was what one might expect in the tropics, a tour of a slum that appeared to have been built as a slum, punctuated by an occasional bank or office building made of the same scabby concrete and painted in the same garish colors as the rest of the city. In the central market sweaty butchers worked in the open air in hot sunlight, cutting up steers and hogs and selling the warm meat while blood spilled sluggishly over the edge of the table in a lacy crimson film." (Page 60)

"Everything Ben said made sense. Making sense was his specialty. Nevertheless, I had never in my life felt more anxiety than I felt now, gazing out the window over the endless jumble of roofs under which Istanbul was hiding itself." (Page 278)

I am eager to continue reading the books the McCarry wrote earlier in his career. And I look forward to his next book. Clearly, the "Old Boy" still has it!



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