Tag: John le Carré

Monthly Review – January 2014

Posted January 31, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Monthly Reading / 0 Comments

Tinker Tailor Soldier SpyHard to believe that the first month of 2014 is over, it has been amazing to see how much excitement people are having towards The Literary Exploration Reading Challenge. For those who don’t know about the reading challenge, there is still time to join in the fun, so check out my introductory post here. Most people were busy enjoying the reading challenge, so our group read, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, didn’t get talked about much, but from what I’ve read it has all be very positive.

I’ve been off to a flying start this year, I’ve read seven books which is surprising since I have no reading goal and I want to take my time with reading. Most of those books go towards the Literary Exploration Reading Challenge and you can find my own record of the challenge here. I’m thinking about trying to read two books for each genre this year and I’m keeping a record of every book and which genre it best fits into on that page as well, just to see which genres need more attention in my exploring.

Highlights of the month for me include; Books by Charlie Hill, 84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff, All That Is by James Salter, The Last Girlfriend on Earth by Simon Rich and Loaded by Christos Tsiolkas. Also a special mention to my current literary obsession Gary Shteyngart; I read his memoir Little Failure and bought all his books (with the exception to Super Sad True Love Story, which I already owned), I hope to read all his books this year but I’m sure other books will get in the way. So what have you been reading this month?

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Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le Carré

Posted January 30, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Book of the Month, Thriller / 0 Comments

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le CarréTitle: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (Goodreads)
Author: John le Carré
Series: George Smiley #5
Published: Sceptre, 2009
Pages: 422
Genres: Thriller
My Copy: Library Book

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindle (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is my second John le Carré novel, the first being The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (which I may need to read again). I remember never really feeling the need to go out and read some more, which would have been a huge mistake. My reasoning for reading Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy was mainly came from the need to have the book read before seeing the movie adaption. John le Carré does a great job writing complex spy plots, but sometimes it gets too confusing and makes it hard to keep up.

The story follows George Smiley (le Carré’s most famous protagonist), a retired intelligence officer working for MI6 (often referred to as “The Circus”) on a quest to discover a mole within the organisation. The characters in the book are so well written, I had to admire the way they all seem so secretive and full of mystery. This is what I expect from a spy novel and John le Carré does a brilliant job in handling them on paper. There is a fine line in how to handle characters like this; too much one way they feel over the top and cheesy and too much the other the mystery will be gone.

The complexity of a novel like this does cause a bit of an issue but in the end isn’t that what you really want? With the twists and turns, you are left never really sure what everyone’s motivations are. John le Carré has a way of under developing characters but never in a way you are annoyed by it; the idea is to keep so much of someone’s character a mystery, with inconsistences that it makes them feel like a real spy. It’s an interesting technique, one that wouldn’t work in most other genres.

Have to give John le Carré credit for the way he builds atmosphere, in a complex plot with numerous characters he still manages to bring a glimpse of London life. Not being to London before, I couldn’t tell you how realistic his depiction is but it feels real. Another thing he does really well is dialogue, nothing feels forced or fake; it all feels seamless and natural.

Now the movie adaptation of this film was particularly interesting. Having read the book beforehand, I really enjoyed it. I had an idea of what was going on, but my wife didn’t, she struggled with the plot. Personally I think overly complex plots make for better spy movies and books, but I think it really helped to have read the book before seeing this adaptation. It was a faithful and enjoyable movie full of all you expect from the book and Benedict Cumberbatch with bad hair.

I’m not going to rush out and read a John le Carré novel anytime soon, but I will come back to him at a later date. I did enjoy this novel; I just feel that the complexity makes it a very difficult book to read. I will have to take my time with his novels, but I’m excited to see what happens in his other books. I’m not sure where to start, do I just read a recommendation, start at the start of the series or just check out his latest book?

Monthly Review – December 2013

Posted December 31, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Monthly Reading / 2 Comments

and then there were noneThis is the end of 2013 and what a great year we have had. Let’s have a quick look back at the year for the book club on Goodreads and our books of the months. For me some of the highlights included; The Bell Jar, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Lolita, Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, The Fault in our Stars and The Shadow of the Wind. We seem to consistently get great books to read, including this month’s book And Then There Were None. I wasn’t sure what to expect, this was my first Agatha Christie and while I had some issues, I will read her again.

Next month we are reading an espionage novel, which will be Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le Carré. I’ve read this novel and really enjoyed it, so I’m excited to see what others think; the movie is pretty great too. I hope everyone had a great holiday period and look forward to the great things to come in 2014. If you’re not aware, the book discussion and everything else will be happening over on the Goodreads forums, so feel free to join in there.

This has also been a great year for this blog too, which spawned last year from the Goodreads book club. I originally hoped this would be a source for all things book club related but turned into a book journal of my life as a literary explorer. I’m glad it did turn into what it is today; I’ve had so much fun book blogging and sharing my bookish thoughts. For my favourite books of 2013, check out the post but I wanted to share some of my favourite posts.

As always this month lead me to discover some great books including The Explorer and The Echo by James Smythe, Maddaddam by Margaret Atwood, Careless People by Sarah Churchwell and a reread of Frankenstein. I thought maybe James Smythe (he made my top books of 2013 list twice) or even Frankenstein would be the highlights of the month but it was actually a non-fiction book; 84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff. It’s only a collection of letters between a book lover and a second-hand book store but for any book lover, it reads like a love letter to books.

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Skinner by Charlie Huston

Posted October 11, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Thriller / 0 Comments

Skinner by Charlie HustonTitle: Skinner (Goodreads)
Author: Charlie Huston
Published: Orion, 2013
Pages: 400
Genres: Thriller
My Copy: Library Book

Buy: AmazonBook Depository (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Skinner is in the ‘asset protection’ game and he was really good at it. His method was fear, he believed the only way to truly protect someone is to make the cost of acquiring an asset far greater than the asset themselves. His employees were uncomfortable with his methods and eventually burnt him; now he is needed again and Skinner needs to re-establish his reputation once again.

I’ve not read Charlie Huston before; I knew he wrote the noir novels featuring Hank Thompson and the supernatural vampiric private eye Joe Pitt series. Both series sound right up my avenue, so why did I start with Skinner? Availability. I went into this novel not really knowing what to expect but hoping for a dark spy thriller; what I got was so much more.

While Skinner is written as a modern day spy thriller the complexity behind the espionage reminds me of the hey days of John le Carré. Skinner has been asked to come back, working for Kestrel which is a private offshoot of the CIA. The whole concept of a corporate owned intelligence agency is no new concept but it leaves Huston with the ability to blur the lines and keep the reader wondering if what is happening is on the level. Skinner’s asset, Jae, is a robotics expert and data analyst which gives us the predictable romantic interest, something that worried me the most within the book.

What I like most about this novel, apart from the complexity, is the way Charlie Huston throws the reader into the story, slowly revealing backstory and small clues into what is happening. This technique leaves the reader guessing about the missions and the characters involved. While this reads as a spy thriller, the way Huston works the characters is masterfully executed and left me wondering, and often not seeing a twist until it is happening.

Skinner is a cutting edge thriller; a novel I had so much fun reading and couldn’t recommend enough for anyone interested in books about espionage. The novel will keep you guessing, leave you thinking and the characters are great, I hope this is the start of a new series because I want Skinner to return. Exploring the terrors of modern warfare and cyber terrorism, you will fly through Skinner but then you won’t stop thinking about it.

Young Philby by Robert Littell

Posted February 12, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Thriller / 0 Comments

Young Philby by Robert LittellTitle: Young Philby (Goodreads)
Author: Robert Littell
Published: Bloomsbury, 2013
Pages: 261
Genres: Thriller
My Copy: ARC from Publisher

Buy: AmazonBook Depository (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Kim Philby could possibly be the most notorious double agent in espionage history. Recruited by the Secret Intelligent Service during World War II, he began spying for the Russians on the British intelligence service. Robert Littell’s Young Philby follows what little we know about his early years up till what made him a great double (or should we say triple?) agent.

Kim Philby was a real high-ranking British intelligence officer who worked as a double agent serving as both an NKVD and KGB operative. Robert Littell takes what little we know about this famous spy and tries to recount a fictionalised version of his life, but does it really cover the truth? It’s hard to recount a story when you don’t know the real thoughts that went through the person’s head and I think this was the one major thing that was lacking. I can understand, being a fictionalised version of his life, the author didn’t want to speculate on his motivations, but I really wanted more on his psychological profile.

As an espionage novel goes, this is no John le Carré; there is a sense of complexity with the double agent idea but I found it really easy to follow. I love le Carré’s ability to write these massively complex espionage novels that really take you on a journey of the unexpected and I would have liked a bit more of that from Robert Littell but he was probably confined to the facts. This was a compelling read and I love a good spy story but I think the narrative did need a little more work to put it among the great espionage novels.

Fast pacedand shifting perspectives really helped driving this novel and the cover alone makes this book worth purchasing. If you don’t know much about the life of Kim Philby, this would be a good place to start; learn about the Cambridge Five, the defection to Russia or just explore a good cold war spy story. I’m glad I got a chance to read Young Philby; I didn’t know much about the man but he did have an interesting life. These fictionalised accounts of history may not be 100% accurate but they do make it easier to get a sense of what happened.

The Geneva Trap by Stella Rimington

Posted September 18, 2012 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Thriller / 0 Comments

The Geneva Trap by Stella RimingtonTitle: The Geneva Trap (Goodreads)
Author: Stella Rimington
Series: Liz Carlyle #7
Published: Bloomsbury, 2012
Pages: 328
Genres: Thriller
My Copy: ARC from Publisher

Buy: AmazonBook Depository (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

The Geneva Trap by Stella Rimington is my first real look into the Liz Carlyle series but this is book seven. So be warned that I’ve not read the other six books so my opinions of this book are only based as a standalone book. Liz Carlyle is a counter terrorism agent for MI5 who is approached by a Russian intelligence officer with some vital information of a cyber-sabotage plot on an American defence program. Liz now has to determine if this is the Russians sabotaging the West’s defences or if this is something much worse.

Stella Rimmington brings all her knowledge to this book as a former MI5 agent and she tries to tangle a story of intrigue and suspense in this novel. But does it work as well as it should? For me I haven’t had much experience with espionage novels so I don’t know what most people would expect from one. For me I often think of James Bond or George Smiley when looking for an espionage novel. The Geneva Trap isn’t as far fetched as an Ian Fleming book and is not as complex as a John le Carré novel, it sits somewhere in the middle which is where I’m lacking in experience with these types of books. I often look for a light high-energy read or something that will make my head hurt when I read spy thrillers. So I’m not too sure I like having a book that falls in the middle.

The Geneva Trap has its fair share of moles and shady intelligence practices but in the end I found the book to feel a little too clichéd and predictable. I also felt like most of the characters in the book were too flat and I never really got to see any dimension in them; this could be a simple fact that this is book seven in the series but I still expect a book to be able to be read as a standalone as well so I would of liked more character development within this one.

Rimmington has put together a good mix of intrigue and action in this spy thriller, I would like to see less predictability and more character development in the future but The Geneva Trap was still an enjoyable book to read. I will definitely be looking to read another one of her books, maybe even in the same series because I did enjoy reading this book even if this review sounds like my issues with the novel outweighed my enjoyment of it. It might have been just my lack of experience or that I should have read the other six first.