Tuesday, May 26, 2015

(No.287)"McCarry, Kanon & other enjoyable reading"

"Novels by Charles McCarry, Joseph Kanon and other writers
who provide enjoyable reading"

by Alastair Rickard

Over the years some RickardsRead columns have been devoted to books I have enjoyed reading and consider sufficiently worthwhile to recommend to readers.

It should be noted that in these columns I have not taken the time or effort to write reviews of books I regard as not worth recommending. Indeed I disqualify myself from writing  -- at least in this forum -- so-called literary criticism, what the English writer Cyril Connolly once described as the thankless task of drowning other people's kittens.

It's not that I don't benefit from regular reading of negative as well as positive book reviews, the former an invaluable aid to avoiding the wasting of one's time. Depending on the reviewer I very often can pick up indications of books I am likely to enjoy -- and many of them do turn out to be enjoyable; others not.

These days, when literally thousands of novels annually cascade into the marketplace -- many of them closer to what can be called typing than to writing while many others are merely trendy but pretentious dross, I value the opinions of reviewers. I welcome assistance in compiling a reading list in an era when so many novels contain more promise than achievement, more prospect of reading enjoyment than actual pleasure.

With that in mind I once again use this column and the next one to share some books I have read recently. I did not find them all of equal value as enjoyable reading but I found them worthwhile. For that reason I draw them to your attention. Most are recently published.

Depending on readers' particular tastes in fiction some may share my favourable opinions; doubtless others will not.


"The Winter Family" by Clifford Jackman (2015) is a just published first novel by a young Canadian lawyer. It is set in the American civil war and frontier during a period running from the 1860s to the 1890s. It tracks the activities and relationships of the members of a gang of outlaws, the so-called Winter Family, during a changing west.

The novel is as dark in tone as the period's unromantic history. It reminds me of another recent novel set in Oregon and California of the 1850s also by a young Canadian novelist, the award-winning Patrick deWitt,  "The Sisters Brothers" (2011). Both novels are violent but not gratuitously so and are fascinating tales.

"Istanbul Passage" and "Leaving Berlin" are the two most recent novels by the superb American writer  Joseph Kanon. All his novels have been set in different cities in the years soon after the end of the Second World War. His superior plots and writing have been likened to what would be created by a combination of John LeCarre and Graham Greene.

These two espionage novels are marked by complexity and suspense set against well-researched historical backgrounds. They feature superior writing and believable plots.

Charle McCarry is a former American intelligence operative in the field who later turned to fiction. He has not been prolific in the writing of novels over the years but what he has produced is very good indeed. Among novelists who have produced 'espionage' thrillers and spy stories he ranks very highly indeed.

Those of McCarry's intermittent novels involving members of the Hubbard-Christopher clan of American intelligence operatives range through the period from the 1930s to the present day. They are stunningly effective stories and he is expert at plotting that covers multiple characters who appear and reappear over long periods. McCarry's prose is as elegant and pleasing to read as Kanon's.

Read and enjoy for example McCarry's "The Old Boys", "Christopher's Ghosts", "The Last Supper" and "Second Sight".



email: Alastair.Rickard@sympatico.ca

blog: www.RickardsRead.com

previous columns & blog archive:
to access previous columns and this blog's archive, the links to which
are listed chronologically in the margin beside each column
as it appears on the RickardsRead.com website, go to
a recent column and use the links

to set a "Google alert' for RickardsRead columns
in order to receive automatic notice of  new clumns
as they are posted to RickardsRead.com, go to