« One If By Land, and Two If By Sea... | Main | Why Oh Why Are We Ruled by These Idiots? (Urinating on the Koran Edition) »

June 03, 2005

A Bad Mistake at the Bookstore

I follow the custom of buying book with "Alan Furst" on the cover as soon as I see them. They're all good, but the best is the truly great Dark Star--in my judgment the best espionage novel ever written. So when I saw Alan Furst's name on the cover of The Book of Spies I snatched it up immediately.

It was only when I got home that I discovered:

  1. It is not a new espionage novel by Alan Furst.
  2. It is not a new collection of espionage short stories by Alan Furst.
  3. It is not even a collection of Alan Furst's favorite espionage stories by other writers.
  4. It is a collection of excerpts chosen by Alan Furst from espionage novels by other writers.

There's nothing worse than novellitus interruptus when the novel is a good one. I can see that this is in the end going to prove to have been a very expensive and very time consuming purchase indeed.

Novels excerpted are:

Eric Ambler, A Coffin for Dimitrios
Anthony Burgess, Tremor of Intent
Joseph Conrad, Under Western Eyes
Maxim Gorky, The Spy
Graham Greene, The Quiet American
John le Carre, The Russia House
W. Somerset Maugham, Ashenden
Charles McCarry, The Tears of Autumn
Baroness Orczy, The Scarlet Pimpernel
John Steinbeck, The Moon Is Down
Rebecca West, The Birds Fall Down

Alan Furst writes:

The characters... work at the blurred edge of the Manichean Universe, where Good struggles with Evil for the destiny of humankind. Work... plagued by moral uncertainty, and always in secrecy... foreign lands, living the sort of independent and adventurous existence that may lead to love or lechery or both. There were two standards for the selections... good writing... and the pursuit of authenticity.... Taken as a subgroup, the former intelligence officers... sophisticated, cynical, and mordant... write with a kind of cloaked angst... the world is a place where political power is maintained by means of treachery and betrayal.... [L]et us being Chapter One and put a good person--at least one who is trying--into this hell and watch him do even worse. By the final paragraph, it's evident that victory is not moral triumph, and, with a few turns of the globe and changes in politics, no longer victory. Not good.

But not always. Clandestine conspiracy is always good when the opposition is evil.... Steinbeck's... Orczy's.... Clandestine conspiracy is always bad, on the other hand, when initiated by the secret police.... Conrad and Gorky, who knew what they were writing about... West....

For humor... I've included the magnificent Tremor of Intent by Anthony Burgess. Burgess may have started out with the idea of writing a send-up... but what seems to have happened next is extraordinary. He seems to have become fascinated by the genre... produced a fruity and seductive spy fiction where passages meant to skewer the conventions... don't so much satirize them as do them better, a lot better....

Posted by DeLong at June 3, 2005 07:14 PM