Friday, June 17, 2011

Fear in Pakistan, or Who says the spy novel is dead?

David Ignatius' novel Bloodmoney is ripped straight from today's headlines — in fact, it anticpates some of them — and its opening chapters do a better job than those headlines in illuminating just how scary Pakistan must be for those compelled to work there.

Ignatius is a journalist turned novel writer who, unlike some members of that breed, can incorporate a telling detail without shouting out its importance. Here's a CIA operative on his way to a rendezvous in Karachi:
"They wouldn't like that neighborhood. It skirted Ittehad Town, the districts where migrants from the tribal areas had settled."
Here's that operative reflecting on his boss's advice about carrying out a mission:
"Gertz loved to say it: Safety first, brother. If it feels wrong, it is wrong. Bail out. But he didn't mean it. If you aborted too many meetings, people began to suspect you were getting the shakes. ... Which meant it was time to send out someone younger, who hadn't lost the protective shell of stupidity that allows you to believe, in strange city. that you have vanished into thin air."
Ignatius has extensive experience writing about espionage; the magazine where I first read about him said his columns are eagerly read at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. His novel Penetration received a new title when Ridley Scott adopted it into the movie Body of Lies.

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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19 Comments:

Blogger Cara Black said...

Thanks for the heads up, Peter - I want to read this! Cara

June 17, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Ah! Are you an espionage fan in your spare time?

The review in the Economist impressed me, and I was even more pleasantly surprised by how Ignatius keeps things relatively low-key early on. Restraint is not a universal characteristic of journalists-turned-novelists.

June 17, 2011  
Blogger adrian.mckinty said...

Peter

I hope he has a better fact checker this time.

June 18, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

In a thriller, these are quibbles. I wonder if the Dome of the Rock mistake is due to a flash of temporary sympathy for al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades.

June 18, 2011  
Blogger adrian.mckinty said...

Peter

Because I was writing for Igantius's home paper I didnt want to embarrass him too much...there were half a dozen more I didnt mention.

Yes I enjoyed the book, but for a well known journalist he made a lot of fundamental errors in history and geography. I was a little surprised.

June 18, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Well, send them along via back channels, then. I'd want to know what sorts of errors he'd likely make in this book, if he were to make any. I'd probably miss them otherwise.

So far, the book is good on atmosphere. Pakistan is a good deal more complex than one is likely to find out by reading newspapers. It occurs to me that crime novels and great travel writing might be the best ways of understanding parts of the world one has not visited.

June 18, 2011  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

I sent them along and perhaps they fixed things for the next printing?

Didnt Clive James argue somewhere that thats all crime fiction is - glorified travel writing? I completely disagree of course.

Incidentally on your rec I started the Snowman last night. Its got a pretty harrowing beginning. I really dont do well with anything involving children but I certainly admire his skill.

June 18, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

"I sent them along and perhaps they fixed things for the next printing?"

Adrian, I don't know if you were being sarcastically rhetorical, but I once found a small mistake that an author said would be corrected in a subsequent edition of a book. I took this as a beacon of hope in a world strongly aligned, as a rule, against all things good, correct, carefully prepared, and error-free.

June 18, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Clive James said all international crime fiction was a glorified travelogue, but I meant travel writing in the Robert Byron line, or maybe your men Nicholas Bouvier or Patrick Leigh Fermor, or maybe Rebecca West. Combine those with a good, lively history, and you'll get better understanding than newspaper will give you of all those inscrutable areas of the world.

Incidentally, Matt Rees, with whom you exchanged some harsh words here, says he quit journalism so he could tell the real story of what he saw in the Middle East. A grandiose claim perhaps, but a mark in his favor nonetheless, I'd say.

Nesbø sets a beautiful harrowing scene; it will be no shock to you that he says he was in demand as a teller of ghost stories when he was younger. My quibble with The Snowman is how he knits those scenes together. My review of the book will appear in The Inquirer next week, so we can discuss the issue further.

June 18, 2011  
Blogger adrian.mckinty said...

Peter

I just dont know the answer. Maybe they fixed them, maybe they dont give a shit?

I dont think Matt Rees would ever claim that you can see the lights of Amman from Jerusalem.

June 19, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I don't remember catching any mistakes in Rees' novels. He's pretty good on geography, I think, and, at least in discussion he seems to know his recent Middle East history.

I don't know what Ignatius' other errors were, but I would hope his publishers would at least fix the Jerusalem mosque mistake. The Dome of the Rock may be the one sight people remember from the city if they remember just one.

June 19, 2011  
Anonymous Linkmeister said...

Apparently Ignatius's works are well known to the Hawai'i library-using crowd. I just placed a request for Blood Money and found that I'm #64 in line.

For that matter I'm #40 in line for the DVD of the Valerie Plame story Fair Game.

June 19, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Like I said, the man's written one hell of a timely book.

June 19, 2011  
Blogger adrian.mckinty said...

Linkmeister

When that DVD comes you're going to wish you were 400th in line.

June 19, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Yeah, I guess the Plame story is not up there with other espionage sagas of our time.

I wonder what the fate of spy novels has been since the Cold War and whether they have picked up in recent years. Queen and Country as well as this book show that the current state of the world is fertile territory for spy writers.

June 19, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian, I'm surprised you did not note that this novel's title is an homage to Philip K. Dick.

June 19, 2011  
Blogger adrian.mckinty said...

Peter

I read that one in one of the generally excellent Library of America PKD collections, but I dont remember a lot about it, except the feeling that it was a minor Dick effort. He probably wrote three other novels that month so never mind.

June 19, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Ignatius even gives it a mention in Bloodmoney. I think he has a character reading it.

I'm no Dickhead, but I've probably heard of most of his major works. I had not heard of Dr. Bloodmoney, however.

June 19, 2011  
Anonymous Linkmeister said...

Grins. adrian, if you're a Bush-hater like I am, I expect it to be re-confirmation of my opinions. I don't need much else from that particular film.

June 19, 2011  

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