Recent Purchases: Joseph Hone and David Quammen

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Recent Purchases: Joseph Hone and David Quammen

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1eldritch00
juny 5, 2008, 7:14pm

I recently came across cheap paperbacks of two spy novels by authors I've never read before but who I've long been curious about, ever since I came across their names online.

I've mentioned Joseph Hone before, several of his books having been released in the Collier Spymasters Series I heard about somewhere. I have what is, I think, the third book featuring his character Peter Marlow:

The Flowers of the Forest, released in the US as The Oxford Gambit, is the novel of Hone's that I'm most interested in plot-wise, it being somewhat reminiscent of A Perfect Spy.

(This highly detailed discussion of his work implies that each of Hone's four novels featuring Marlow take certain spy fiction tropes, and this one is my "favorite.")

If this wasn't exciting enough for me, I then came across The Soul of Viktor Tronko by David Quammen, which I first heard about here.

Quammen is better known as a writer of non-fiction works of natural history, but he did write another spy novel called The Zolta Configuration. The one I bought is the one I'm most interested in reading though.

One bad thing about these purchases is how I can't decide which to read first. Even worse is how--if I end up liking these as much as I think I will--I'm going to have to scrounge for more of these authors' works...not the easiest thing to do, I fear.

2quartzite
juny 7, 2008, 12:54pm

Interesting to learn that several of Hone's later books feature Peter Marlow. I recently read The Private Sector and it appeared that Marlow's career was well and truly ended in that book. Now that I know otherwise I shall have to look for the others.

3quartzite
jul. 11, 2008, 7:24pm

Just read the second Peter Marlow book by Joseph Hone, The Sixth Directorate. Great if like your wheels within wheels within wheels, etc. One can get dizzy. I do have the Oxford Gambit and will probably read it in the near future.

4eldritch00
jul. 22, 2008, 2:34am

I read the Quammen first and breezed through it, finding it rather gripping, with a rather interesting use of point-of-view and characterization. And then I started reading the Hone, in the middle of which, fatherhood happily happened, so despite my similar enjoyment of the novel, I had to put it down now and again. In any case, I enjoyed both novels, prime examples of the literary thriller, and I'm especially looking forward to reading more Hone.

David Quammen's The Soul of Viktor Tronko features a journalist as its main character, an ex-veteran of the "intelligence beat" who is pulled back into that world with the return of some people from that past of his.

(Although I doubt Quammen ever covered the clandestine world as a journalist, I did find it rather cute that main character Michael Kessler left the world of spooks to write natural history, which is what Quammen is more known for rather than spy fiction.)

Kessler basically goes around meeting with people here and there, eliciting stories from them. While peril and danger does befall him now and again, and those moments still work, it's really when he just sits back and listens that the novel reaches its high points, which is plenty.

Good characterization, especially when Quammen goes subtle, and the writing style is crisp yet intelligent. Fans of twisty-turny plots will especially like this one.

The Flowers of the Forest a.k.a. The Oxford Gambit is somewhat like A Perfect Spy, treating that spy fiction trope with more "thriller elements" but still without losing the rich thematic explorations (of betrayal, dishonesty, etc.) that A Perfect Spy had in spades.

I'm looking forward to reading more Hone.

5hcahen
feb. 23, 2010, 12:15pm

Spoiler alert. Don't look further if you plan to read Quammen's novel The Soul of ViktorTronko.

Hey, I have got to talk to someone about this book. I am going over and over through it trying to piece together the answers to some questions that are still nagging me.

1. What was Pokorny's mistake--the mistake he made during his interrogation of Tronko, which led Alpert to her "epiphany" where she realizes the truth. "Stammer guy" is the clue Kessler writes down and I know who the stammering guy is, the name he gives--Rybakov--and maybe who he really is--Avvakian???? but I can't figure out what Pokorny could have done unless he stammered when he was taunting Tronko with the line that Tronko says Rybakov uttered wheh they were (supposedly) looking at the Oswald file: Rybakov would have said "Do you p-p-p-pray?" If Pkkorny said it this way then that would give away that he personally knows "Rybakov"

2. Who is the dangerous dude in the rust-colored jacket? Who sent him? Why? Is he the guy who killed Pokorny? Is he the guy who pushed Kessler off the building? Why at the end doesn't Kessler believe that he is still in mortal danger from that guy?