Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Human Factor

Graham Greene famously divided his writing output into "novels" and "entertainments," with the latter being more light-weight thrillers.  The Human Factor, though, is something of a cross-over.  It's an espionage novel, but not much of a thriller; instead, this story of a mole in British intelligence focuses on his loneliness and isolation.

It's an enjoyable novel (although very depressing), once I got past the opening setup.  The ending images are pretty haunting.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Mr. Palomar

I don't really have anything intelligent to say about Mr. Palomar.  It's by Italo Calvino, which means it's sui generis, strange, and beautiful.  He was a fantastic writer, in both senses of the word.

Kings of Cool

Kings of Cool is the prequel to Savages, and very much of a piece with it.  The same punchy style.  The same lack of depth.  It's a bit worse for being a prequel -- I rarely like prequels, because a whole lot of the plot revolves around getting the characters into place for the next book, which we've already read.  The biggest pluses for this book are that the style is enough fun to get over the other hurdles, and the novel is short enough that its annoyances don't really build up.

But I'll be happy to read the next Neal Carey book, which should have a bit of substance.

Liberation Movements

Liberation Movements is Olen Steinhauer's fourth novel set in an imaginary Eastern Bloc country; each novel has taken a look at this country in a different decade.  Liberation Movements is a bit of an odd duck in the series, for a couple of reasons.  One of the major players is kinda-sorta psychic (her abilities are given a rational basis, but they're still supra-normal), whereas up till now the series has been very much of this world.  It's also set almost entirely outside of the home country of the series.

I think that both of these differences lead to a weaker book than the first three.  Part of the problem, I think, is that one of the strengths of those books was the relentless feeling of suffocation.  By setting so much of the novel across the border, Steinhauer relaxes the tension somewhat; in addition, I found the psychic a distraction, and the "explanation" of her abilities made it worse, because it took me out of the novel while I thought of how implausible the explanation is.

It's still a solid novel, and I'll certainly pick up the last of the series, but it just felt like a let-down after the first 3.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The James Deans

I loved the first two Moe Praeger books (although I see I that I only blogged about the first one).  They share with most hard-boiled detective novels a certain level of cynicism, but they also have an underlying optimism that people can find a personal redemption, even in an environment that is corrupt.  It's a rare combination with in the field, and Coleman's thoughtful exploration of hope and redemption was appealing.

Unfortunately, the third novel, The James Deans, is in much more standard territory.  There is a too-good-to-be-true politician, his wealthy handler, an corrupt policeman, and other standard accoutrements of the genre.  It's not a bad book per se (although the plot is a bit overly convoluted), and Reed Farrell Coleman is a solid writer, but it didn't really stand out for me.