** The Miernik Dossier, Charles McCarry, 1973
I'm not big on spy novels, but I like the occasional well-written specimen. I'm particularly fond of Wm. F. Buckley's Blackford Oakes novels, which I'll re-read one of these days.
Back when I was writing Hell in a Briefcase for Phil Little, he frequently mentioned Jason Bourne. I'd seen the movies but not read the books. Since I'd never written a thriller, I decided it would be a good idea to read these seminal works, starting with The Bourne Identity. The first paragraph of which goes like this:
The trawler plunged into the angry swells of the dark, furious sea like an awkward animal trying desperately to break out of an impenetrable swamp. The waves rose to goliathan heights, crashing into the hull with the power of raw tonnage; the white sprays caught in the night sky cascaded downward over the deck under the force of the night wind. Everywhere there were sounds of inanimate pain, wood straining agasint wood, ropes twisting, stretched to the breaking point. The animal was dying.
I wish I were kidding. We're not in Kansas any more, Toto. We're out where the Bulwer-Lytton buses don't run, raving like Eddie on acid.*
Not that I'm one to gainsay millions sold, movies made, fame and cash (especially the cash) to be garnered. If I knew I would make that kind of cash writing that kind of trash, I'd write it all day in bucket loads. But no man is guarranteed tomorrow, or best-seller status, regardless what he writes.
But we're not talking about Ludlum (not anymore, we're not), we're talking about McCarry, who is no Ludlum, thank God. With accolades from the likes of Richard Condon and P. J. O'Rourke (for crying out loud) I figured it was worth a trial spin. I grabbed a few Paul Christopher novels, but research showed I was missing the first in the series, so I shelved them conveniently out of reach until I could snag The Miernick Dossier, which I did last month. A plane trip (which is a story in its own right) afforded the opportunity to dig in, and I did.
This book, McCarry's first published novel, gets 3 stars for intruige but is downgraded to 2 stars because of the narrative style. It's literally a dossier, a collection of documents written in different voices and styles. It's done well, but the self-imposed restriction of his choice prevents the kind of character development that would have made this book truly enjoyable.
However, I did like this line from the title character: The wretched will always find something they do not undertand to die for.
We shall see how the next one goes.
*Edward George Bulwer-Lytton is the author of the infamous starting line, "It was a dark and stormy night." The full opening sentence went thus: "It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents--except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness." I'll give Ludlum this. Like Bulwer-Lytton, he got a semicolon in the first paragraph. Good on ya, mate!
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