A slight rain fell; the cobblestones glistened; the whole thing had a cinematic look that Basil paid no attention to, as it did him no good at all and he was by no means a romantic.
In the wake of reading Stephen Hunter’s G-man (reviewed below), I also downloaded his novella Citadel, available as an e-book. I had some niggles with G-man, but I found Citadel pure delight – a brisk, exciting mystery and spy story.
Basil St. Florian is an agent for Britain’s SOE during World War II. He accepts a dodgy assignment with little chance of success – to fly into occupied France, break into an antiquarian library in Paris, and photograph selected pages of a rare manuscript. Supposedly (nobody’s really sure) those pages contain the key to a “book code” which will allow (for reasons explained in the story) the British to pass information on German plans to the Soviets. Alan Turing is involved.
Basil is an interesting character – the kind of upper-class ne’er-do-well who was never useful to society until the war gave scope for his less respectable talents. His adventures introduce him to a bore of a Luftwaffe officer and a rather decent Abwehr agent.
Citadel was fun. Lots of wit went into the story, and it was fascinating to watch the unflappable Basil overcome repeated seemingly fatal setbacks. The plot tied itself up neatly in the end and left a good taste in my mouth.
Recommended light adventure and suspense, with a touch of Hogan’s Heroes. Only minor cautions for mature stuff.
Dave Lull reminded me that the new Bob Lee Swagger book by Stephen Hunter was coming out the other day, and I was on it like a fedora on J. Edgar Hoover. I had a good time with the book, though it’s not among my favorites in the series.
In G-Man, old Bob Lee finally sells off the family homestead in Blue Eye, Arkansas. As the house is being demolished, workmen discover a strongbox buried in the foundation. Inside are a pristine Colt 1911 pistol, a hand-drawn map, an old, uncirculated thousand-dollar bill, and a piece of metal that looks like a rifle suppressor, though Bob Lee can’t identify it right off.
Various clues indicate the box must have been buried by his grandfather, Charles F. Swagger, a kind of a mystery man. He was county sheriff, and a World War I hero, and an angry alcoholic. Bob Lee’s father Earl made it his life’s goal to be nothing like him. The Colt 1911 belongs to a batch that went to the FBI in 1934. Could old Charles have been an FBI agent for a while? Continue reading ‘G-Man,’ by Stephen Hunter
Stephen Hunter, after years of writing successful sniper novels, has taken a flyer with a change of genre—a historical thriller. I, Ripper is a fictional retelling of the Jack the Ripper murders which is not intended to solve the historical mystery, but to illuminate the history of modern ideas.
The story is told through the eyes of three characters. One is a young London reporter who calls himself “Jeb” (we don’t learn his true identity until late in the story). By luck he’s the first newspaper man on the scene of the initial prostitute murder in Whitechapel, and he becomes his paper’s chief man on the story. He even bestows on the murderer the nickname by which he’ll be known to history.
The other narrators are the Ripper himself, in a fictional journal in which he does not reveal his identity, and a young prostitute who describes in a series of letters how she and her fellow streetwalkers react to the killings.
Jeb wants to do more to uncover the killer, in the absence of effective work by the official police. He makes the acquaintance of a renowned linguistics scholar, who produces what today we’d call a “profile” of the killer. Armed with this profile, Jeb and the professor reduce the pool of suspects to a few men, and then one.
Then the investigation explodes in surprises and a dramatic confrontation.
I, Ripper isn’t a bad novel on its own terms. I found it difficult to read at the beginning, because the murders are described in unpleasant detail. The final working out of the story was much to my liking, however.
But I don’t think I can recommend it to our audience, unless you have a strong stomach.