Book Beginnings & The Friday 56: The Honourable Schoolboy by John le Carré 

Every Friday Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Gillion at Rose City Reader where you can share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.

This week I’m featuring one of the books I’ve just started to read – The Honourable Schoolboy by John le Carré, a Cold War spy thriller, the sequel to Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy. It’s based in the Far East in the mid 1970s.

The Book Begins:

Afterwards in the dusty little corners where London’s secret servants drink together, there was argument about where the Dolphin case history should really begin.

I like this opening sentence – it focuses attention immediately on the Dolphin case – what was it and where did it begin? I hope all will become clear.

Also every Friday there is The Friday 56, hosted by Freda at Freda’s Voice. *Grab a book, any book. *Turn to Page 56 or 56% on your  ereader . If you have to improvise, that is okay. *Find a snippet, short and sweet, but no spoilers!

Only George Smiley, said Roddy Martindale, a fleshy Foreign Office wit, could have got himself appointed captain of a wrecked ship. Only Smiley, he added, could have compounded the pains of that appointment by choosing the same moment to abandon his beautiful, if occasionally errant, wife.

At first or even second glance George Smiley was ill-suited to either part, as Martindale was quick to note. He was tubby and in small ways hopelessly unassertive. A natural shyness made him from time to time pompous and to men of Martindale’s flamboyance his unobtrusiveness acted as a standing reproach.

Surely, unobtrusiveness is just the quality a good spy needs.

Summary

In the second part of John le Carré’s Karla Trilogy, the battle of wits between spymaster George Smiley and his Russian adversary takes on an even more dangerous dimension.

George Smiley, now acting head of the Circus, must rebuild its shattered reputation after one of the biggest betrayals in its history. Using the talents of journalist and occasional spy Jerry Westerby, Smiley launches a risky operation uncovering a Russian money-laundering scheme in the Far East. His aim: revenge on Karla, head of Moscow Centre and the architect of all his troubles.

John Le Carré’s Books

I have been having a sort out of both my physical and e-books and realised I have several books by John Le Carré, that I’d like to read sometime this year. I have three ‘real’ books by him and nine e-books. I’ve only read two (three now April 2022) of them!

Books shown in bold are the ones I’ve read and those in italics are the ones I own that I have yet to read. There are nine books in the Smiley series, in which the character George Smiley appears (in four out of the nine, Smiley is only a minor character). Within that series is the The Karla Trilogy (Books 5, 6 & 7).

Smiley
   1. A Call for the Dead (1961) – TBR (ebook)
   2. A Murder of Quality (1962) – TBR (ebook)
   3. The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1963) read
   4. The Looking Glass War (1965)
   5. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (1974) read
   6. The Honourable Schoolboy (1977) read (paperback)
   7. Smiley’s People (1979) TBR (ebook)
   8. The Secret Pilgrim (1990)
   9. A Legacy of Spies (2017)

Standalone novels:

  1. A Small Town in Germany (1968)
  2. The Naive and Sentimental Lover (1971)
  3. The Little Drummer Girl (1983) – TBR (ebook)
  4. A Perfect Spy (1986) – TBR (ebook)
  5. The Russia House (1989)
  6. The Night Manager (1993) – TBR (ebook)
  7. Our Game (1995)
  8. The Tailor of Panama (1996)
  9. Single and Single (1999)
  10. The Constant Gardener (2000)- TBR (paperback)
  11. Absolute Friends (2003)
  12. The Mission Song (2006)
  13. A Most Wanted Man (2008)
  14. Our Kind of Traitor (2010) – TBR (ebook)
  15. A Delicate Truth (2013)
  16. Agent Running in the Field (2019)
  17. Silverview (2021)

As I’ve read Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy, the next one I’ll read is The Honourable Schoolboy.

Summary

In this classic masterwork, le Carré expands upon his extraordinary vision of a secret world as George Smiley goes on the attack.

In the wake of a demoralizing infiltration by a Soviet double agent, Smiley has been made ringmaster of the Circus (aka the British Secret Service). Determined to restore the organization’s health and reputation, and bent on revenge, Smiley thrusts his own handpicked operative into action. Jerry Westerby, “The Honourable Schoolboy,” is dispatched to the Far East. A burial ground of French, British, and American colonial cultures, the region is a fabled testing ground of patriotic allegiances and a new showdown is about to begin.

And after that as I did enjoy watching the TV adaptation of The Night Manager a while back, I might read that later on.

Library Books: February 2022

The mobile library service is back to normal now and I borrowed these books this week:

From top to bottom they are:

A Legacy of Spies by John Le Carré. It’s the 9th book in his George Smiley series. I’m not sure about reading this one yet as I’ve only read 2 of the series, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. But whilst it was there on the shelves I decided to borrow it and at least start it to see if it reads like a standalone. And according to this article on the Penguin website all five of novels in the Smiley series are easily read as standalones. You do not need to read them in order but they do suggest a reading order.

Book description: Peter Guillam, former disciple of George Smiley in the British Secret Service, has long retired to Brittany when a letter arrives, summoning him to London. The reason? Cold War ghosts have come back to haunt him. Intelligence operations that were once the toast of the Service are to be dissected by a generation with no memory of the Berlin Wall. Somebody must pay for innocent blood spilt in the name of the greater good . . .

The Doll-Master and Other Tales of Terror by Joyce Carol Oates. I’m not sure I want to read this book – it’s described on the back cover as ‘Six terrifying tales to chill the blood’.They may be too terrifying! But I have enjoyed her books before, so maybe this one will be OK.

Book description: .

In the title story, a young boy becomes obsessed with his cousin’s doll after she tragically passes away from leukemia. As he grows older, he begins to collect “found dolls” from the surrounding neighborhoods and stores his treasures in the abandoned carriage house on his family’s estate. But just what kind of dolls are they?

In “Gun Accident”, a teenage girl is thrilled when her favorite teacher asks her to house-sit, even on short notice. But when an intruder forces his way into the house while the girl is there, the fate of more than one life is changed forever.

In “Equatorial”, set in the exotic Galapagos, an affluent American wife experiences disorienting assaults on her sense of who her charismatic husband really is, and what his plans may be for her.

The Hour of Imagination by Katharine McMahon. I borrowed this because I’ve read two of her books and enjoyed them.

Book description: Estelle never really knew her mother, Fleur, but is haunted by her legacy. A legendary resistance heroine in the Great War, she had helped Allied soldiers escape from Belgium – and was not alone in paying a terrible price.

Christa’s father was one of those Fleur saved – but he returned home a ruined man. So, when Estelle arrives on Christa’s doorstep hungry for information about her mother, an intense and complex friendship is ignited.

In 1939, as conflict grips Europe once more, Estelle follows her mother’s destiny. Then Christa discovers that Fleur was betrayed by someone close to her and the truth may destroy them all…

Walden of Bermondsey by Peter Murphy. I’ve not read any of his books, so this is unknown territory for me. Peter Murphy spent a career in the law, as an advocate, teacher, and judge. He has worked both in England and the U.S., and served for several years as counsel at the Yugoslavian War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague. This book is the first in his Judge Walden series.

Book description: When Charlie Walden takes on the job of Resident Judge of the Bermondsey Crown Court, he is hoping for a quieter life. But he soon finds himself struggling to keep the peace between three feisty fellow judges who have very different views about how to do their jobs, and about how Charlie should do his. And as if that’s not enough, there’s the endless battle against the “Grey Smoothies”: the humorless grey-suited civil servants who seem determined to drown Charlie in paperwork and strip the court of its last vestiges of civilization. No hope of an easy life for Charlie then, and there are times when his real job – trying the challenging criminal cases that come before him – actually seems like light relief.

I’d love to know what you think – have you read any of these books, if so did you enjoy them? If not, do they tempt you?

Top Ten Tuesday: A Freebie -Spy Thrillers

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme created by The Broke and the Bookish and now hosted by Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl. For the rules see her blog. The topic this week is a Freebie so my ten this week are Spy Thrillers. I’ve read all of these, except for An Officer and a Spy, which is one of my to-be-read books:

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold by John le Carré set in the 1960s. Alex Leamas, an aging British intelligence agent, who has beenout in the cold’ for years, spying in the shadow of the Berlin Wall for his British masters, is ordered to discredit an East German official. 

They Came to Baghdad by Agatha Christie – set in 1950 this is a story about international espionage and conspiracy. No Miss Marple of Poirot, just Victoria Jones, a short-hand typist, a courageous girl with a tendency to tell lies. She gets involved in a plot to sabotage a secret summit of superpowers is to be held in Baghdad.

The Spy by Paul Coelho, a fictionalised biography of Mata Hari, who was an exotic dancer, executed as a spy during the First World War in October 1917.

Tamburlaine Must Die by Louise Welsh, set in May 1593, this a tense, dramatic story of the last days of Christopher Marlowe, playwright, poet and spy. 

The English Spy by Donald Smith tells the story of how Daniel Defoe was sent to Scotland in 1707 under secret instructions from the English government to persuade the Scots to give up their independence. 

The Thirty Nine Steps by John Buchan, a spy thriller, set in 1914 just before the outbreak of the First World War, in which Richard Hannay finds Scudder, a spy, murdered in his London flat. Fearing for his own life he goes on the run, chased by villains in a series of exciting episodes, culminating in the discovery of the location of the ‘thirty-nine steps’.

Winter in Madrid by C J Sansom -an action packed thrilling war/spy story and also a moving love story and historical drama all rolled into this tense and gripping novel. Harry Brett, traumatised by his injuries at Dunkirk is sent to Spain to spy for the British Secret Service. 

An Officer and a Spy by Robert Harris, a fictionalised account of the Dreyfus affair. Dreyfus was a French military officer convicted of spying for the Germans in 1895. He is sentenced to a lifetime of solitary confinement on Devil’s Island.

Corpus by Rory Clements a spy thriller set in the 1936. I was immersed in the mysteries, with spies, communists and Nazis, Spanish Gold, Soviet conspirators, politicians and academics all intricately woven into the plot.

Operation Mincemeat: The True Spy Story that Changed the Course of World War II by Ben Macintyre about the Allies’ deception plan codenamed Operation Mincemeat in 1943, which underpinned the invasion of Sicily. It was framed around a man who never was.

The Power-House by John Buchan

As usual I am behind with writing book reviews, but whilst it is still relatively fresh in my mind I’m going to begin catching up with the latest book I read. It’s only short – 108 pages – and I enjoyed it far more than I thought I would.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

John Buchan’s The Power-House, was written in 1913 when it was serialised in Blackwood’s Magazine and then published in book form in 1916. In her Introduction to the Polygon Books edition Stella Rimington described it as:

Pure essence of Buchan – a demonstration of his magical power to weave a tale out of no materials but the threads and colours of his imagination. It does, however, possess a theme – John Bunyan’s idea, in Pilgrim’s Progress, of men of goodwill and courage struggling with an intelligent, evil power at the root of all the world’s troubles and confessions. (page vii)

The narrator is Edward Leithen, a barrister and MP. His friend and fellow MP Tommy Deloraine tells him is off to Moscow to track down one of their Oxford contemporaries, Charles Pitt-Heron, who had disappeared without letting his wife where he was going. He told her he’d be home for luncheon, but never came back. Whilst Tommy goes off in pursuit of Pitt-Heron, Leithen stays in London, but soon his curiosity draws him into the mystery, because, as he tells himself, ‘every man at the bottom of his heart believes that he is a born detective.’ And so, having collected a few items of information merely by accident and coincidence, he finds the connecting link between them in the person of Andrew Lumley, a wealthy Englishman. Lumley, an elderly man, with menacing, pale eyes, hidden behind his tinted glasses is the key to the whole mystery.

Just as Hannay in Buchan’s later novel, The Thirty-nine Steps, meets the villain Von Schwabing in the library of his country house, so Leithen meets Lumley in his gentleman’s country house, High Ashes, in his library. The two men dine together and then settle themselves in armchairs to smoke cigars and proceed to talk about many things. Leithen is perplexed by him and his speculations on the nature of civilisation, and of power.

I was struck by these thoughts: Lumley states that civilisation is a conspiracy to which Leithen responds that it is in the interests ‘of all the best brains in the world to keep up the conspiracy.‘ To which Lumley replies:

Do we really get the all the best brains working on the side of the compact? Take the business of Government. When all is said, we are ruled by amateurs and the second-rate. The methods of our departments would bring any private firm to bankruptcy. The methods of Parliament – pardon me – would disgrace any board of directors. Our rulers pretend to buy expert knowledge, but they never pay the price of it that a business man would pay, and if they get it they have not the courage to use it. (pages 33 -34)

Lumley continues in this vein and concludes that what is needed is some sort of Power-House to start the ‘age of miracles‘. Leithen is unsettled, to say the least, by his talk and his ‘eerie persuasiveness’.

From an somewhat slow start and a middle consisting mainly of conversation, the novel then picks up pace dramatically. Just as in The Thirty-nine Steps when Hannay goes on the run, fearing for his life, over the moors, so Leithen, in danger of his life, flees his pursuers through the streets of London, as he is lured in deserted buildings, taxis and a decidedly dodgy restaurant. He realises how thin the protection of civilisation is and how there were dozens of ways of spiriting him out of ‘this gay, bustling world‘, alone in a crowd with no one to help him, only his own wits.

Buchan tells a good story, even if I had little idea what the Power-House really was. It’s an international anarchist network, but who they were, what they were actually after, or how they hoped to achieve their ends was never clear to me. But I really enjoyed this book. As Stella Rimington says it has an ‘intoxicating blend of madness with scents of home and countryside.’ And

… the thinness of the crust of civilisation, whatever that may be these days, is as relevant in our time as it was when Buchan was writing in the early war-torn years of the twentieth century. (page xi)

WWW Wednesday: 12 February 2020

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WWW Wednesday is run by Taking on a World of Words.

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

A killing kindnessSaving MisseyCurrently reading: I’m reading A Killing Kindness, a murder mystery, the 6th Dalziel and Pascoe book by Reginald Hill and enjoying it very much.  I’m also reading Saving Missy by Beth Morrey, which I’m also enjoying. It’s a feel good story and very different from A Killing Kindness. Missy Carmichael’s life has become small. Grieving for a family she has lost or lost touch with, she’s haunted by the echoes of her footsteps in her empty home; the sound of the radio in the dark; the tick-tick-tick of the watching clock.

Happy Old Me

Recently Finished: Happy Old Me: How to Live a Long Life and Really Enjoy It by Hunter Davies. This is an account of one year in his life after his wife, Margaret Forster died – poignant, moving and very interesting. I’ll write more about later on.

Reading Next: This is a movable feast, as I rarely decide until the time comes.

It could be The Year Without Summer by  Guinevere Glasfurd. 

Year without summer

Blurb:

1815, Sumbawa Island, Indonesia
Mount Tambora explodes in a cataclysmic eruption, killing thousands. Sent to investigate, ship surgeon Henry Hogg can barely believe his eyes. Once a paradise, the island is now solid ash, the surrounding sea turned to stone. But worse is yet to come: as the ash cloud rises and covers the sun, the seasons will fail.

1816
In Switzerland, Mary Shelley finds dark inspiration. Confined inside by the unseasonable weather, thousands of famine refugees stream past her door. In Vermont, preacher Charles Whitlock begs his followers to keep faith as drought dries their wells and their livestock starve.

In Suffolk, the ambitious and lovesick painter John Constable struggles to reconcile the idyllic England he paints with the misery that surrounds him. In the Fens, farm labourer Sarah Hobbs has had enough of going hungry while the farmers flaunt their wealth. And Hope Peter, returned from the Napoleonic wars, finds his family home demolished and a fence gone up in its place. He flees to London, where he falls in with a group of revolutionaries who speak of a better life, whatever the cost. As desperation sets in, Britain becomes beset by riots – rebellion is in the air.

The Year Without Summer is the story of the books written, the art made; of the journeys taken, of the love longed for and the lives lost during that fateful year. Six separate lives, connected only by an event many thousands of miles away. Few had heard of Tambora – but none could escape its effects.

Or it could be one of my TBRs – I simply don’t know yet.

Have you read any of these books?  Do any of them tempt you? 

WWW Wednesday: 29 January 2020

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WWW Wednesday is run by Taking on a World of Words.

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Currently reading: I’m still reading, very slowly, The John Lennon Letters edited by Hunter Davies and The Windsor Story by J Bryan III and Charles V Murphy.

 And I’m also enjoying Hunter Davies’ memoir Happy Old Me: How to Live a Long Life and Really Enjoy It. This is an account of one year in his life after his wife, Margaret Forster died – poignant, moving and very interesting.

Recently Finished: Death Has Deep Roots: a Second World War Mystery by Michael Gilbert. Set in 1950 it’s a mix of courtroom drama, spy novel and an adventure thriller. Victoria Lamartine, a hotel worker, and an ex-French Resistance fighter is on trial for the murder of Major Eric Thoseby, her supposed lover, and alleged father of her dead child. My full review is in this post.

Silence between breathsReading Next: This is a movable feast, as I rarely decide until the time comes.

Yesterday I picked up several books in Barter Books, and am itching to read The Silence Between Breaths by Cath Staincliffe – Passengers boarding the 10.35 train from Manchester Piccadilly to London Euston are bound for work, assignations, reunions, holidays or new starts, with no idea that their journey is about to be brutally curtailed.

I did begin reading it whilst having a cup of coffee in Barter Books and the opening chapters make me want to read more.

Or it could be one of my TBRs – I simply don’t know yet.

Have you read any of these books?  Do any of them tempt you? 

WWW Wednesday: 15 January 2020

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WWW Wednesday is run by Taking on a World of Words.

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Currently I’m reading three books:

Charles Dickens oliver twist etcOliver Twist by Charles Dickens, my Classics Club Spin book. It’s one of those books that I think I know the story from watching TV adaptations, but I have never read it. I’ve discovered that I only ‘know’ the beginning of the book up to the part where Oliver is rescued by Mr Brownlow from Fagin’s clutches, only to be snatched back by Nancy. After that the story is totally new to me.

John Lennon LettersI’m also reading The John Lennon Letters edited by Hunter Davies. It includes a brief biography and using almost three hundred of Lennon’s letters and postcards, to relations, friends, fans, strangers, and lovers follows his life more or less chronologically. It’s a large, heavy hardback book, illustrated with photos and reproductions of the letters etc. This is going to be a long-term read for me.

The Windsor StoryThe third book is one I’ve only just started – I’ve been struck by some of the parallels between Edward VIII’s abdication in 1936 in order to marry Wallis Simpson and the current situation of Prince Harry and Meghan in wanting to step back as senior royals, and I remembered I have The Windsor Story by J Bryan III and Charles V Murphy. It looks remarkably comprehensive and is another book that I think will take me a long time to read.

Lady of the ravensThe last book I finished reading is  The Lady of the Ravens by Joanna Hickson, historical fiction about about the early years of Henry’s reign as seen through the eyes of Joan Vaux, a lady in waiting to Elizabeth of York, whose marriage in 1486 to Henry united the Houses of Lancaster and York after the end of the Wars of the Roses.  I found this a fascinating book and posted my review a few days ago.

Tinker tailorI have several books lined up to read next including Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John Le Carré because over the Christmas period I watched the film starring Gary Oldman as George Smiley, along with Colin FirthTom HardyJohn Hurt and others. I began reading the book years ago and have a bookmark at page 88, but I’ll have to go back to the beginning now.

A killing kindnessBut I’d also like to start A Killing Kindness, the next Dalziel and Pascoe novel, the 6th one in Reginald Hill’s series. It looks good – about Mary Dinwoodie whose body is found choked in a ditch following a night out with her boyfriend, and a mysterious caller phones the local paper with a quotation from Hamlet.

But knowing how long it could be until I start the next book, it could be something completely different!

Have you read any of these books?  Do any of them tempt you? 

Greenmantle by John Buchan

Greenmantle by John Buchan was my Classics Club Spin book to read by 31 January. I read the free Kindle edition (525 pages).

Greenmantle (Richard Hannay Book 2)

3*

Greenmantle is the second of five novels by John Buchan featuring the character of Richard Hannay, first published in 1916, the first being The Thirty-Nine Steps. It was written as the First World War was being fought, before the Battle of the Somme. Many of Buchan’s friends and his younger brother were killed in the war and his adventure stories are a form of escapism. It continues Hannay’s story, taking him from convalescence in  a big country house in Hampshire following the Battle of Loos in 1915, back to London for a vital meeting at the Foreign Office, and then to a top-secret and perilous mission across war-torn German-occupied Europe.

Narrated by Hannay, this is basically an adventure and spy story with a highly improbable plot. It’s pure escapism, as Hannay and his comrades, Sandy Arbuthnot, Peter Pienaar, a South African Boer, who Hannay met in South Africa when he was working as a mining engineer before the First World War, and an American, a dyspeptic businessman, John S Blenkiron embark on a quest, travelling incognito across Germany to Constantinople, reaching a climax at the battle of Erzurum in eastern Anatolia (Asian Turkey) in 1916.

Sandy, a master of disguise, is I think the hero of the book, although Hannay is the man in charge of their investigation. Ludovick Gustavus Arbuthnot, known as Sandy, was in the same battalion as Hannay during the Battle of Loos. The book begins as Hannay received a telegram from Sir Walter Bullivant summoning him to the Foreign Office where he offers him a ‘crazy and impossible mission’ to investigate the rumours of an uprising in the Muslim world. Bullivant tells him:

There is a dry wind blowing through the East, and the parched grasses wait the spark. And the wind is blowing towards the Indian border. Whence comes the wind, think you. (page 9)

The only clues they have to guide them are the words ‘Kasredin’, ‘cancer’ and ‘v.I’.

I was fascinated by the first half of the book as Hannay and the others set out on their mission, following the events of 1916, after the Gallipoli disaster as the Germans were supplying munitions to their allies, the Young Turks. Hannay describes his brief meeting with the Kaiser, Wilhelm II, who he felt had ‘loosed Hell, and the furies of Held had got hold of him.’

I didn’t think Buchan’s villains were particularly convincing as characters, the most evil being the mysterious Hilda von Einem. She fascinated Hannay whilst at the same time he instinctively hated her as he realised she was trying to cast a spell over him. The German Colonel von Stumm is a big man, a brute and a bully, whose ‘head was exactly the shape of a pear with the sharp end topmost’. Hannay thought he was

the German of caricature, the real German, the fellow we were up against.  He was as hideous as a hippopotamus, but effective. Every bristle on his odd head was effective. (page 84)

I liked the contrast between the ordinary and the exotic. The ordinary, such as the domestic scenes as in the opening scene of the book with Hannay just finishing breakfast and Sandy hunting for the marmalade. When Hannay returns from the Foreign Office with his mission in hand Sandy is eating teacakes and muffins. Blenkiron’s diet is mentioned several times as he only eats boiled fish and dry toast whilst drinking hot milk. On the other hand the exotic is found in the Garden-House of Suliman the Red, in the garden of a tumble-down coffee house, transformed from a common saloon into a place of mystery where the Companions of the Rosy Hours perform their potent magic of dance, making the world appear at one point ‘all young and fresh and beautiful’ then changing into something savage and passionate, ‘monstrous, inhuman, devilish’, until the spell is broken.

In the second half or the book the pace increases when they reach Constantinople and Buchan describes the action of the battle at Erzerum. But I found that it didn’t hold my attention as much as the earlier sections of the book, but then again I’m not keen on descriptions of battles and fighting. Overall, then I enjoyed it, which is why I’ve given it 3* on Goodreads.

This is my third book for the Mount TBR Challenge, a book I’ve owned for nearly 5 years, and as well as being on my Classics Club list it is also a book that fits into the When Are You Reading Challenge, being set in 1916, and as it it a spy/espionage story it also qualifies for the Calendar of Crime Challenge.

 

 

Six Degrees of Separation: from Like Water for Chocolate to The Spy Who Came In From The Cold

Six Degrees of Separation is a monthly link-up hosted by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best. Each month a book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six other books to form a chain. A book doesn’t need to be connected to all the other books on the list, only to the one next to it in the chain.

This month the chain begins begin with a book that Kate says people may not have discovered, were it not for the hugely popular movie version – Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate. I hadn’t discovered it at all until now! But I see that it’s a ‘bestseller’, a book about passion and the magic of food (including recipes), a tale of family life in  Mexico.

Like Water for Chocolate

The first link in my chain is a book also set partly in Mexico:

The Lacuna

The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver is the story of Harrison Shepherd, the son of a Mexican mother and an American father and it’s told through his diaries and letters together with genuine newspaper articles, although whether they reported truth or lies is questionable. As you can see from the cover swimming plays a part in this book. As a boy, Harrison, loved swimming and diving into a cave, which was only available at certain tides, a cave that was there one day and gone the next – a lacuna.

Swimming also features in Evil Under the Sun by Agatha Christie.

Evil Under the Sun (Hercule Poirot, #23)

Poirot is on holiday in Devon staying in a seaside hotel. It’s August, the sun is hot, people are enjoying themselves, swimming and sunbathing until Arlena is found dead – she’d been strangled.

The next book in my chain is also crime fiction  – Blue Heaven by C J Box.

Blue Heaven

This is a story set in North Idaho about two children, Annie and William who decide to go fishing without telling their mother, Monica, and witness a murder in the woods. One of the killers sees them and they run for their lives. It’s fast-paced and full of tension right to the end.

I chose Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie as the next link, a book that also has a colour in its title.

Half of a Yellow Sun

It’s based on the Nigeria-Biafra War of 1967 – 70. Focusing on the struggle between the north and the south, the Igbo, Yoruba and Hausa people, it brings home the horrors brought about by war, the ethnic, religious and racial divisions and the suffering that results.  It is also a novel about love and relationships, a beautiful and emotional book without being sentimental and factual without being boring.

Another book about war, but this one is non-fiction about a spy operation during World War Two – Operation Mincemeat by Ben Macintyre.

Operation Mincemeat: The True Spy Story That Changed the Course of World War II

It’s about the Allies’ deception plan in 1943, code-named Operation Mincemeat, which underpinned the invasion of Sicily. It was framed around a man who never was. I thought it was so far-fetched to be almost like reading a fictional spy story. I marvelled at the ingenuity of the minds of the plans’ originators and the daring it took to carry it out.

Operation Mincemeat led me to think about a fictional spy in The Spy Who Came in from the Cold by John Le Carré.

The Spy Who Came In from the Cold

This is set in the Cold War period in the 1960s and tells the story of Alex Leamas’s final assignment. It’s a dark, tense book and quite short, but very complicated; a story  full of secrecy, manipulation, of human frailty and its duplicitous nature.

What a journey! My chain moves through time and place – from Mexico to Devon, North Idaho, Nigeria, Sicily and Berlin. It encompasses fiction and non-fiction and takes in several wars. All, except for the book that starts the chain, are books I’ve read and enjoyed. Six Degrees of Separation is always fascinating to compile and I’m always surprised at where it goes and where it ends up. Who would have thought that a book about family life in Mexico would end up linked to a spy novel about the Cold War?