Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Vintage Mystery #12

I read this book for the Vintage Mystery Bingo Reading Challenge 2015. The challenge is to read 6 or more Vintage Mysteries. All novels must have been originally written between 1960 and 1989 inclusive and be from the mystery category.

I read this for the category I-1, “TBR First Lines.”

First Line: Like tombstones of forgotten graves, the decayed apartment buildings in the Friedrichstrasse pooled haphazard shadows in the approaching dusk and both men expertly used the cover, walking close to the walls.

Charlie M - Brian Freemantle, 1977

Published in 1977, this is a classic cold war thriller. A top Russian spymaster signals that he is willing to defect. The directors of the British and American secret services ruthlessly jockey for the best positions to take the prize. And while the elephants fight, it is the ant Charlie Muffin, seasoned operative, that finds himself at the highest risk of being stomped. Born in the working class north of England, Charlie offers his betters as much upward contempt as he can deliver by dressing badly – Hush Puppies, for pete’s sake – and banging a daughter of the land-owning elite.

In the 1970s, spy writers often used a derisive tone when describing people in power. In this novel, the head of the British spies, an ex-Army man, plans the operation with different colored push pins decorated with little flags. During his off hours, the Russian general that planning to defect replays the Battle of Kursk with toy tanks on his living room floor. The head of the CIA is a power-hungry psycho. Since he gives leaders such a resounding Bronx Cheer, Freemantle is clearly an ex-journalist.

This novel was the first of 16 Charlie M novels. The tradecraft seems plausible and, in contrast to many thriller novels, people suffer adverse effects from drinking too much alcohol. Those into a lite John LeCarre would probably enjoy them as would readers who like Ross Thomas. Charlie M is the US title, Charlie Muffin the UK title.

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