The Spy Who Came In From the Cold–John Le Carre

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I read this one before, several years ago, but apparently I blanked on it because I had minimal recollection of it when I was reading it this time around.

What prompted me to read this again was that I tried and failed to watch “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” on Netflix. Then I also heard an episode of Intelligence Squared, which is a podcast that is actual Oxford-style debates, about who was the better spy novelist, John Le Carre or Ian Fleming. (John Le Carre, c’mon.)

This is such a great book. And SO SAD.

Alec Leamas is a the head of the British spy organization in Berlin during the height of the Cold War. The book starts with him waiting for a spy of his to make it across the border into West Germany. He doesn’t make it and that basically collapses the entire British spy operation in Berlin.

He goes home and is farmed out to office duty, turns into a total drunk, gets fired from the agency and works a bunch of crappy jobs, and finally beats up a local grocer, doing three months in jail.

When he gets out, he’s recruited by the Communists to betray his people for cash and potential resettlement, but while he’s in Holland giving them information, his own government catches on and starts looking for him, so they move him behind the curtain to East Germany.

While there he runs across a fearsome interrogator and also the head German spy, the man ultimately responsible for the destruction of his entire spy operation.

Or actually, maybe none of that is what happened.

Because it’s John Le Carre and there’s always another level. You think you got to the bottom? NOPE.

Maybe he was recruited by his own intelligence service to go deep undercover and feed bad information to the communists to take down the German spy.

Or maybe he was recruited by his own intelligence service to give accurate information to the communists to take down the German spy.

Or maybe he was giving information that was partially true and partially false, designed to save the German spy, who is actually working for the British after all.

It’s always so much fun to read Le Carre because it’s so clever, and so subtle. Will Leamas live to tell the tale? What was really happening?

IMDB tells me there was a movie of this in 1965 starring Richard Burton, and that there’s a miniseries coming this year starring Aidan Gillen (Littlefinger from Game of Thrones!) so that will be well worth watching.

And Never Let Her Go–Ann Rule

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I discovered a great podcast called “My Favorite Murder” which is a true crime podcast and I recommend it if you have an interest in mysteries and murder and a REALLY HIGH tolerance for swearing. I’m not kidding. It’s a lot of cussing. But so funny.

And it set me off into a true crime rabbit hole and I read this book. Fun fact about Ann Rule: she was a friend of Ted Bundy. So she comes by her profession honestly, is my point.

But this is not a Bundy story, this is the story of the death of Anne Marie Fahey in the late 90s. They made a movie of this book, so if you prefer to watch movies than to read 1) what are you doing here? This is a book blog. Focus. 2) you have that option.

Basically this is the story. Anne Marie Fahey had a really bad life. Her mom died of cancer when she was nine or thereabouts, and her dad sunk into alcoholism and they were always getting their electricity turned off and starving and whatever because he wasn’t working. Her older siblings tried to keep her alive and in food but when she was in high school her dad died of a heart attack and she was taken in temporarily by some friends. She was so worried about them resenting her presence that she ate as little as possible and became obsessively tidy, which continued her entire life.

But she was tough, and she went to college and got a good job, as the scheduling secretary for the governor of Delaware. She started seeing a therapist for her anorexia and it was all coming together.

She met Thomas Capano at work. He was a married prominent attorney, a former prosecutor, and by all accounts very charming. They started dating and she was consumed with guilt about the relationship but obviously she wasn’t in the best place mentally and he was very manipulative and controlling and she kept seeing him even as she wanted to get away from him.

She finally met a real boyfriend, and started pushing harder to leave Capano. And then one day in late June she went to dinner with him and was never seen again.

It was a solid murder and he almost got away with it. He missed a couple of tiny little pinpricks of blood in his great room and they got DNA from it. They put pressure on Capano’s brother, and got him to cave, and he admitted to helping dispose of the body. They took him to trial, where, UNBELIEVABLY, he tried to pitch the theory that his OTHER girlfriend had found out about his relationship with Anne Marie and shot her by accident and he was helping to cover up the crime because he’s a good guy.

Which, let’s all agree from the outset that 1) that’s not the way being a “good guy” works and 2) it takes a stone cold killer to stuff his lover into an ice chest, BREAKING THE LEGS to make her fit, and then wrap an anchor around the body and drop it into the sea.

The jury convicted him to death, but the appeals court commuted it and he died of natural causes in prison.

 

Two for the Dough–Janet Evanovich

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This is the second of the Stephanie Plum books written by Janet Evanovich.

These are all numerical, and she’s up to the twenties now. The last maybe half dozen or so of these are getting a bit repetitive and formulaic. It happens with a long running series. I have hope for some shake up but I’m not overly optimistic about it.

Regardless, this is from the beginning of the series when she was still getting settled into the concepts. Most of the characters were established in the first book, some getting more solid footing in this one.

Stephanie Plum is an inept bounty hunter, working for her cousin Vinny at his bail bonds business. She’s looking for Kenny Mancuso, a super creepy guy who shot his friend in the knee and was caught doing it. He was let out on bail and disappeared. Also looking for Kenny is local cop Joe Morelli who claims to be doing so out of concern for the family as the creep is a distant cousin, but he has a secret professional interest in his cousin as well.

Turns out that Kenny had been in the army and quite a few military grade guns and ammo supplies went missing.

Meanwhile, she’s getting some cash on the side from the creepy son of the local undertaker who bought some discount caskets from the army and then had them stolen.

Do you see a common theme? Sure you do.

But knowing that there’s a connection between the undertaker and the soldier and their skeevy business deal doesn’t answer the pertinent questions. To wit: 1) where are the guns and the coffins? 2) why are they both looking for them if they’re in it together–who else is involved? 3) can they find the answers before crazy Kenny starts attacking living people instead of corpses at the funeral home?

This is the book where Lula starts getting the role she’ll play for the rest of the series, that of crazy sidekick. Everyone loves Lula, she’s one of the best parts of this series.

I think these books are fun, even if they are starting to become a little repetitive now.

 

One for the Money–Janet Evanovich

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This is the first book in the Stephanie Plum series, which is a mega bestselling series.

In this book, we meet Stephanie as she’s lost her job as a lingerie buyer for a department store and is out of money and can’t get a job anywhere. Her family suggests she go talk to her cousin about a filing job in his bail bonds business. That job has been filled but the office manager talks her into taking an open bounty hunting job, because it pays better.

Her first fugitive is Joe Morelli, a cop that’s been accused of murder. She has an unpleasant romantic history with him and is not opposed to finding him.

Unfortunately, finding him is easy enough but capturing him is harder. She runs into him several times during the course of her investigation, which is based on the idea that he probably didn’t do the murder and is probably trying to get enough evidence to give the cops a better suspect. Her idea is to investigate the murder herself and see if she can intercept him that way.

An informant had called Morelli with information. When he got to her house, there was some men there and one of those men ended up dead. The informant was nowhere to be found.

She quickly runs into a champion fighter named Benito Ramirez who is totally insane and dangerous. He also had a history with the informant and that makes Stephanie think that he’s involved with this situation.

Also in the mix: Benito’s manager Jimmy Alpha and some low-level goons that are running around.

All she has is desperation and the help of Ranger, a former special forces guy turned bounty hunter who is giving her some basic training in her new profession.

This is a fun book. The movie was not so great, but more or less faithful to the concept.

 

Carpe Jugulum–Terry Pratchett

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I love Terry Pratchett. The world is a sadder place without him.

Quick refresher for those who don’t know how it works: He has a series called the Discworld series, it’s about a world that is flat and rides through space on the back of four elephants riding a giant flying turtle. The books have several distinct sub-varieties, some following specific characters and some that are stand-alone.

This is yet another of the Discworld books that focus on the witches. I love the witches. They are by far my favorite variety of Discworld book.

In this book, Magrat (a witch that is not currently practicing due to her current position as queen) is celebrating the birth of her daughter and her enlightened husband has invited ALL the people, including vampires.

This, not entirely surprisingly, turns out to be a ridiculously bad idea.

The vampires exert mind-control over everyone and take over the castle. They set up shop as rulers of a new place.

They are unable to control the minds of Granny Weatherax and Agnes Nitt, the newest witch in the area. With those two working separately, and the other two witches doing the best they can do, they take the fight to the vampires home castle.

These books are so much fun, and so very clever. As with all series, I advise reading in order, but if you’re interested in specific parts of this series, you can read just those books in the order they were published, see here for a listing of how to do that.

(I tried to link to the direct author of the site and not i09 but the link on i09 took me to a different site and I spent a few minutes trying to find it and then figured, meh.)

 

 

The Girl in the Spider’s Web–David Lagercrantz

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I was dubious about this coming in. If you’ve read the first three books in the series, written by Stieg Larsson, you know that the series was wrapped up. All the loose ends were tied up. It was very emotionally satisfying. Larsson is dead,and apparently his family gave this other person permission to continue the series. You can understand my dubiousness. Was this book necessary? Is it just a cash grab to take advantage of the fact that this series exploded after Larsson’s death? Would it retain the feel of the originals?

Well. Sort of.

The plot was fine, not quite as convoluted as the previous ones, I don’t think, but fine. The characters seemed familiar, the author got the spirit of the characters right. The tone was off, though. The original trilogy was viscerally intense. I’d be up late reading them, with my heart pounding. I had no problem putting this book down and never felt that terror.

My biggest issue was that they created a character that was most definitely not in the previous books, one that should have been referenced in the previous books if they did exist. This isn’t a minor character, it’s the antagonist. This is LAZY storytelling. I am highly disappointed.

If you are interested in these books, read the originals. Read them in order, that’s very important. Also, if you have Netflix (in the US, at least) you can access the 6 part Swedish mini-series of the series. I highly recommend it, they’re brilliantly done and highly faithful to the books. Don’t read this. Let your memories and experience of this series stand with the original trilogy.

Guards! Guards!–Terry Pratchett

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This was not one of my favorite of the Discworld books.

It retains the cuteness and the playfulness of the other Discworld books, though, so if that’s what you’re into don’t be afraid to grab it.

In this book, someone has the bright idea to overthrow the elected ruler of the capital city by 1) summoning a dragon using magic 2) setting up some random as “the lost heir to the throne” and 3) making it look like the lost heir killed the dragon.

Things do not go as planned.

He teases you with the real lost heir to the throne and the entire book you’re expecting to see that guy jump in front of the dragon and kill it but nope, not at all.

Instead you have the drunken, dissolute head of the city guards working with an aristocratic lady who breeds small dragons. It’s fun and it’s Discworld, but I’m not feeling it as much. It felt like the entire second half of the book was the “climax.” I kept checking my pages and thinking, how could there be that much left?