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Archive for the ‘fiction’ Category

The Intelligencer by Leslie Silbert.

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The Intelligencer by Leslie Silbert

This complex novel is set in two centuries, with two casts of characters, and two plots. The unifying thread is a collection of intelligence reports in cypher supposed to be from the files of Frances Walsingham, spymaster for Elizabeth I, which disappeared in the sixteenth century. This book has them reappear in modern times in the possession of Cidro Medina, a young, handsome, British financier whose London home is burgled by a mysterious criminal, seeking the manuscript, who commits suicide by poison as he is apprehended. Medina hires the Slade Group to investigate whereupon we meet operative Kate Morgan, erstwhile graduate student in Renaissance literature, who begins to decipher the manuscripts while conducting other operations for the part of the Slade Group which accepts CIA assignments. Kate’s off-the-books, CIA assignment involves meeting, getting fingerprints and a voice recording to establish a real identity for Luca de Tolomei a mysterious, obviously very wealthy, Italian art dealer. Described as the bad boy of the Sotheby’s set, he has just paid eleven million dollars to a highly placed figure in the Iranian security service, but does not seem to have existed prior to 1991. Spy satellites watch as a box is mysteriously transferred at night from one of the ships formerly involved in evading the oil embargo to de Tolomei’s yacht in the Mediterranean.
In the sixteenth century, we follow the adventures of several real people, among them Christopher Marlowe, playwright and intelligence agent for one faction in the highly competitive and understandably paranoid world of Elizabethan espionage. The notion that (British) “Gentlemen don’t read each other’s mail” was a product of the restrained and peaceful nineteenth century. In the police state that was Elizabethan England, spying, torture and guilt by mere suspicion were customary. By 1593, three years after Walsingham’s death, the competing factions, led by Sir Robert Cecil, and Robert Devereux, Lord Essex were circling each other, egged on by Elizabeth, herself, who was quite happy with both Cecil’s information and Essex as her bed partner. Replete with Elizabethan arms smuggling, commercial fraud, and political and religious intrigue, the concerns of the 16th century begin to sound rather like our own, some of the solutions they found both real and imagined begin to sound familiar also.
Leslie Silbert has written a novel of multi- level intrigue, where even the things that we know happened the sixteenth century can be brought into question. Laced with the details of espionage tradecraft of both the sixteenth and twentieth century, the book slips easily between the creators of the 16th century documents, and their decoders and investigators in the modern era. The motivations of the characters of both centuries are as complicated as the hidden paths of the human heart, and even the best spy satellites can only record activities, not explain why they happen. There is a second novel promised soon entitled Killing Caravaggio which will involve Kate Morgan and many of the same twentieth century characters, with a historic adventure based on the life and death of the artist Caravaggio.

Mary K. Spore-Alhadef

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The title of this amusing but ultimately serious book is a  reference to the London neighborhood most Americans will remember from the Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts film which is referred to locally as “That Film” (just as Macbeth is always called “The Scottish Play”  by those connected to the theatre).  One of the characters in the book notes that the last scene of the film, with the pregnant Julia and Hugh on a bench, obviously now homeowners, in  the communal  garden whose wall they had scaled earlier,  was, for her, the obvious beginning of narrative tension not the happy ever after.

The story is told in alternating chapters by two of the women whose tiny back gardens open (via a locked gate to which each household has one key) onto the five acre common garden.  Clare (a childless and worrying-about-it garden designer, whose husband Gideon is a successful eco-architect) represents the new moneyed people who have made house values in the neighborhood escalate 3000% in twelve years and   Mimi (the mother of three, a dilatory work-at-home freelance journalist whose husband Ralph writes a subscription-only monthly on the oil and gas industry) who feels completely embedded in the neighborhood.  They inherited their house from Ralph’s father who bought it when the neighborhood was down-at-heels and by Notting Hill standards they are poor as they never go skiing, lack a second house in the country and struggle to pay the school fees.   The other neighbors fall into two groups, the haves. . . and the have yachts,  the superstars of the financial corporate and entrepreneurial worlds whose wives are kept busy being  Notting Hill uber-mummies,  superintending their children’s diet and activities, relentless shopping and decorating consultation with the Donna the guru of feng shui  who does everything from  window boxes to  life advice.

The arrival on the garden of the newly divorced transatlantic billionaire Si Kasparian  sets off the “marriage-wrecking-ball crash of lust…” in Mimi, but the neighborhood really goes into action when one couple demolishes their garage and begins an elaborate rebuilding which raises dark suspicions in Clare.  The story is hilariously filled with insights into life among the “Yummy Mummies” of modern London where “Circle Time”  at Ponsonby Prep can lead to the details of Celebrity Mummy’s  changing relationship innocently  revealed to the world and all the consequences of intra neighborhood adultery fold into one-upping the neighbors with new home perks like retractable roofs  and children who are either “gifted “  or “special needs”.  The author is  a  well known London journalist and resident of the neighborhood whose far more famous brother is Boris Johnson,  the Tory MP and ex-editor of The Spectator who has just shocked the political world by  being elected Lord Mayor of London.   The book is complete with “Notting Hill for Beginners” a guide to the shops, spas and service purveyors who support the lifestyle of London’s most famous postcode. — Molly Spore-Alhadef

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Robert Blair Kaiser has written a roman a clef set in the very near future which projects a Cardinal Archbishop of Los Angeles kidnapped from his mountain cabin in his own helicopter to face a televised trial in the jungle of Mexican Chiapas over the child abuse scandal.  After this Grishamesque  opening, and a rescue that seems to kill all those involved except the title character, he is left in the hospital in Los Angeles to contemplate  this shattering experience.  The changes to his own outlook on his role in the Church and the actions he begins to take as a result of his new viewpoint begin a change in American Catholicism toward a “People’s Church”.  The characters he gathers around himself, and the opposition he meets offer a rich portrait of clerical, and media personalities from Kaiser’s own past.

Written as a novel, with a mix of real, thinly veiled real and completely fictional characters, this is actually a polemic written to advance the cause for a change in the American Catholic Church toward autochthony like the Maronites, Melkites, Assyrians and Chaldeans who are in union with Rome, but have their own languages, liturgies and customs, including a married clergy. The novel goes from the jungle to the centers of power in both Rome and the American Church.  We meet thinly veiled versions of people Kaiser knows who are the thinkers, power politicians, and strategists who run large organizations, like the Catholic Church.  After his own career in the media, both the strategies used by both sides in publicizing their views and the real people like Michael Moore and Bill O’Reilly who occasionally are part of the plot are sharply and humorously drawn.  While there is an air of unreality here (it is set in the future, after all) this succeeds in giving information and entertaining the reader.  The end of the book implies that there will be a sequel.

Molly Spore Alhadef

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Hemon is plainly and ardently in love with the music of English consonants and vowels.

“The genre inaugurated by Jonathan Safran Foer‘s 2002 novel Everything Is Illuminated has finally found its standard bearer. Like Everything before it, Aleksandar Hemon’s The Lazarus Project comprises a mildly successful, yet deeply neurotic author living in America, a character who speaks in a funny patois, an intriguing story of a murdered Eastern European Jew, the author/narrator’s journey back to Europe to write a book about the aforementioned Eastern European Jew, existential concern about writing said book, and the crafting of this concern into the very book that the reader is holding. ” – Josh Stein for Boldtype a literary blog worth checking out!

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Zoli by Colum McCann

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McCann’s story is loosely based on a real Gypsy poet, Papsuza, who was exiled by her people when her poems were published. He has enriched that story with insightful and evocative prose, and in Zoli has created a vibrant character who is able to maintain her identity and proud heritage, even when abandoned by those she loves. – BookPage

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I’ve been waiting for YEARS for Tobias Wolff’s new story collection and this one does not disappoint. Read “Her Dog” – it is the perfect example of Wolff’s skill: quiet storytelling that packs a big punch.

“A long-recognized master of the short story genre, Wolff brings together 21 favorite stories culled from three previous collections and adds, for this occasion, 10 new stories never before gathered in book form. This retrospective of his three-decades-long career testifies to the short story being his natural agent for personal expression.” – Booklist

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One of last year’s books that landed on many “Best of” lists:

“The explosive first long work by “the most exciting writer to come from south of the Rio Grande in a long time” (Ilan Stavans, Los Angeles Times), The Savage Detectives follows Belano and Lima through the eyes of the people whose paths they cross in Central America, Europe, Israel, and West Africa. This chorus includes the muses of visceral realism, the beautiful Font sisters; their father, an architect interned in a Mexico City asylum; a sensitive young follower of Octavio Paz; a foul-mouthed American graduate student; a French girl with a taste for the Marquis de Sade; the great-granddaughter of Leon Trotsky; a Chilean stowaway with a mystical gift for numbers; the anorexic heiress to a Mexican underwear empire; an Argentinian photojournalist in Angola; and assorted hangers-on, detractors, critics, lovers, employers, vagabonds, real-life literary figures, and random acquaintances.” – Publisher description

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