Wednesday, July 12, 2006

The Book That Started It All – Mini Review of “The Miernik Dossier” by Charles McCarry

If you are a regular reader of the White Rhino Report, you are already aware that I have become a big fan of the espionage novels of Charles McCarry. In recent months, I have reviewed “Tears of Autumn” and “Old Boys.”

I finally have gotten around to reading McCarry’s first novel, “The Miernik Dossier.” First published in 1973, it has recently been reprinted and re-released. John Leonard of the New York Times Book Review called this book, “Arguably the finest modern American spy story.”

McCarry’s approach in crafting this book is unique and brilliant. Much like Akira Kurosawa’s groundbreaking film, “Rashomon”, events are described through the eyes of five different characters. In the case of “The Miernik Dossier,” the tale is told through a series of reports, notes and transcripts that make up the agency’s dossier on one Tadeusz Miernik, a mysterious Polish scientist who may or may not be a Soviet agent at the height of the Cold War. An unlikely quintet of characters undertakes a trip in a custom-built Cadillac – from Switzerland to the desert of the Sudan. Along the way, McCarry takes the reader on a wild ride of intrigue, deception, kidnapping, murder and romance. Each of the Cadillac’s passengers is an intriguing individual in his or her own right. Taken together, they are a crazy quilt of story, backstory, convoluted relationships and colliding agendas.

Here are the dramatis personae:

Tadeusz Miernik, the awkward misfit Pole who may be headed to Sudan to serve as leader of a terror network operating in the desert;

Paul Christopher, an American spy operating under deep cover;

Ilona Bentley, part-English and part-Hungarian femme fatale;

Kalash el Khatar, the statuesque Sudanese prince who is delivering the Cadillac to his enigmanitc father;

Nigel Collins, a British agent tasked with figuring out what the other players may be up to as they make their way from Geneva to Dar es Salaam and beyond.

McCarry’s weaving together of the action as the reader makes his way through the various reports in the dossier is masterful. “The Miernik Dossier” is a masterpiece that has stood the test of time – surviving long after the Cold War has grown tepid and the Berlin Wall has been razed.




J Kroese said...

A minor correction; the Miernik character is described in the book as an historian, not a scientist

Hayford Peirce said...

It was John Gross of the New York Times, not John Leonard. See my article about the book at

Hayford Peirce