This is spy story, just cant remember what possessed me to buy it. It was published in 1971 so it must have been written around the mid/late sixties. There is one five-star review for it on Amazon by someone who obviously really loves it. It is part of a new series from Faber re-publishing what they consider to be overlooked classics; the cover blurb compares it favourably to people like Eric Ambler, Graham Greene and other British, gritty spy story writers [not the dirty old man; LeCarre came later]. Goodreads reviewers aren’t so obliging with several complaining about the amount of unnecessary backstory which results in a loss of pace.
It is clunky in places. His favourite word is like. Everything has to be like something else; maybe that’s how they wrote in the mid-sixties. Perhaps that was what editors and publishers considered ‘good writing’, so you get sentence after sentence like this one:
‘. . . he spaced the words out quietly and very precisely, like a nanny giving a last warning . . .’
‘. . . but what shall we do - what plans do they have?’ She went on, like a traveller stuck in a midland junction on a winter Sunday morning; upset but still confident’.
The story is set in Egypt, just before the six-day war and concerns two British spies one of whom is a Russian double-agent; spy number one is sent out to Cairo to find him and eliminate him. They are quite good characters but the great character is the woman, Bridget with whom they are both in love. She is a fantastic creation: so nuanced and real that she just must be based on a real person. Hone himself lived and worked in Egypt around this time so perhaps she is based on someone he knew.
Am I recommending this? Possibly. It is dense and by and large I like dense as long as it is going somewhere and the characters are three-dimensional and the situation believable. There is some terrific writing in there, however. Try this:
And the revolution had come; others had brought it, sought death for it, defined it . . . you were buying stamps in the General Post Office at the time. Never mind. It was just what you always talked about in the village café, it had come to pass exactly as you had said . . . it was yours, your number had come up at last. You were out in the streets for the rest of the week, you yelled more than anybody and looted a little. And later you bought a jacket to go with the trousers and had a word in someone’s ear . . . a friend of your uncles who had actually been seen with a stick in his hand on the first day.
Now the ranks had closed again after the whirlwind, you met the fixers again, the ones you’d rallied against in the village, only they wore suits now . . .
More of that please and you might have written an all-time classic.
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