Saturday, May 15, 2010

Revisiting a Classic - Review of "The Tears of Autumn" by Charles McCarry

Last week when I was in Seattle, I was introduced to a new friend, James Nolan, father of Elliott Nolan. He and his wife graciously hosted me on two occasions at their home on Mercer Island. During the many hours of fascinating conversation, we spent some time talking about favorite books and favorite authors. James lent me his treasured and well-worn copy of Charles McCarry's classic espionage novel, "The Tears of Autumn." James raved about the quality of McCarry's writing, and I would have to agree that this is almost a perfect book. The plot line is taut and crisp, shocking and plausible. The author convincingly ties together the assassination of Vietnam's President Diem and that of JFK a few weeks later.

The action of the novel ricochets among Saigon, Paris, Rome, Zurich, the Congo and D.C. Career spy Paul Christopher resigns and goes out on his own to discover why Kennedy was killed. His shocking discoveries cause seismic upheaval at the highest levels of several governments.

The quality of the writing is superb, akin to the best of LeCarre, Ludlum and Furst. He are a couple of brief excerpts to whet your appetite:

"They were in front of a bar, and Patchen started toward its door. 'Let's stop outside a minute,' Christopher said. 'You know what's involved here, David. If these politicians never know what happened, they'll do it again.'

'Yes, they will.'

'You don't think that's worth preventing?'

'I don't think it's possible to prevent it, Paul. You have a flaw - you think the truth will make men free. But it only makes them angry. They believe what suits them, they do what they want to do, just like the slobs we're going to find lined up at the bar in there. Human beings are a defective species, my friend. Accept it.'" (Pages 73-74)

* * * * * * * * *

"Christopher slept on the train, protected by three nuns and a schoolboy who shared his compartment. In Bologna he leaned from a window and bought a sandwich and a bottle of beer from a platform vendor. One of the nuns peeled an orange and handed it to him, with the skin arranged around the fruit like the pointed leaves of a lily. She was young, with a sensual face from which prayer had scrubbed all traces of desire. However, the pretty orange, handed across the compartment as if she were feeding a horse and was wary of its teeth, was as much a gift of flirtation as of charity." (Page 199)

This is a book, although its action is embedded in the events of 1963, that is timeless in its insights into the nature of human beings and their governments.

For a first time reader, this novel will be a treat. For those who already know the work of McCarry, I invite you to
take another bite of the orange.



No comments: