What have you been reading lately? Do you have any fiction recommendations to share? Here are a couple mini-reviews of books I’ve recently read.
A Spy’s Life is the 2001 offering from British writer Henry Porter. At times I really enjoy a good spy novel. I like the complicated plots and the various characters who find their way into this sort of novel. As well I enjoy the way actual geo-political events are often woven into the story, providing an interesting mix of fact and fiction.
A Spy’s Life begins right after a plane crash. Robert Harland used to be a spy, but for the past several years, he’s hung up his past and has been doing a much less exciting job for the UN. Harland was on the plane and found himself wading in the East River, the only survivor. He soon realizes that whatever caused the crash is somehow tied in with his own past. This book is an enjoyable read with plenty of plot twists. Much of the tension in the novel derives from not knowing whose side anyone is really on. The story is well enough cobbled together to make us readers almost forget about the unlikeliness of the plotline.
I’d call this book a pretty good bit of genre fiction. It’s plenty tasty and chewy enough to be interesting.
I wandered through a bookstore one day and The Tremor of Forgery by Patricia Highsmith caught my eye on a display shelf. I’ve read a number of her books. Highsmith wrote Strangers on a Train, the various Ripley novels and The Price of Salt (which became the film Carol) among others. I had never even heard of The Tremor of Forgery. My first thought was the title was lame. Then I saw that The New Yorker and also Graham Greene called it her best work. OK, I thought, I’m in.
I thought this book was more of an existential novel than a mystery thriller. A writer gets hired for to write a film script in Tunisia. The director gives him some cash and they agree to meet there. Nothing goes as planned. The director failed to show up and we learn he has committed suicide in New York.
The writer, Howard, makes two very different friends while in Tunisa who influence his behaviour. He faces two strange events, and how he deals with these becomes the heart of the novel. Howard changes along the way. The book is set during the 1967 Six Day War. There is anti-American sentiment to a degree where his is and that backdrop helps increase his sense of alienation. In his current environment he is separated from his old life in New York, and Highsmith has placed him in a culture very foreign to him. He questions his relationships and his very way of life.
At the same time, Howard writes a novel. It seems the more he is displaced from his past life, the better the writing is going. This creates a novel within a novel scenerio and The Tremor of Forgery is a working title for what Howard writes while in Tunisia.
The Tremor of Forgery is not Patricia Highsmith’s best novel. It is not as good as the best of the Ripley novels, but it IS an excellent book and I highly recommend it.