I mentioned how my reading was "all over the place" a couple of days ago . . . While I happily have been spending time in contemporary (ca. mid-1980s) Japan, I also have not one but two novels on the go that are spy stories of sorts. One is C.J. Sansom's Dominion, which I think I already mentioned? It is an alternate history--one of those "what if" stories where Britain loses WWII and falls under the rule of Hitler and his cronies. It's not just a historical novel but a spy story. The main character, David Fitzgerald, is a civil servant and gets pulled into acting as a spy for the Resistance. Things are all the more interesting as he is also secretly Jewish. By now all Jews have been "relocated" with the exception of those living in England, though their lives are precarious as Nazis have begun making their lives more difficult.
I have added to the reading line up Georgina Harding's The Spy Game. This might sound a little strange, but there is a method to my madness. I go to the gym most days and the machine I use for my workout has a little tray that is meant for reading material. You can prop your book or (more likely) magazine (actually an ipad or ereader works well, too) on the tray and have your hands free to hold on to the machine. As much as I love the books I am reading, none are quite right for the machine. I had to hold the book flat in some way but also hold on and it made for a frustrating work out. Nothing like multi-tasking at the gym, but if it results in a half hour or so extra reading time, multi-task I am happy to do. But I had to find just the right book. Normally I base my reading choices on mood and desire for a particular story, but this time around I had to find a book that would fit on the tray and lay open without help for me and so, yes, Georgina Harding works quite well. I had every intention to just leave the book in my locker and read it for the daily workout, but I find myself so immersed that I end up bringing it home with me so I can dip into it whenever I please. The story is about two young siblings whose mother dies in a car crash. It's the early 1960s and so the war is still on their peripheral memories. Their mother was German-born and with the Cold War atmosphere so pervasive they begin imagining that she was a spy and didn't really die in an accident. It's hugely absorbing.
When I realized that I seem to have the spy theme running through my reading at the moment, I thought maybe it was time for another season of spies. A few years back I kicked off my reading year with a few spy stories. Since this seems to be the path I'm on at the moment, why not add a few more books to the mix (well, when I finish these two anyway). And a new list of books is in order, I think, since I have accumulated a new stack to choose from. Some of these might not be straightforward spy novels, but they all look good:
The Spy's Wife by Reginald Hill -- "Molly Keatley is content with her comfortable life in a London suburb. But that changes one morning when her husband rushes home, grabs a briefcase, mutters a hasty apology and disappears. Minutes later, two men arrive with news that her husband is a Soviet spy, and that the sleepy joys of her marriage have acted as a cover for public and personal betrayal. Her husband, it seems, has spent years using her for his own purposes, and now the British intelligence service wants to use her for theirs. But the shock of Sam's betrayal has woken Molly out of her complacent dream, and she is no longer willing to be anybody's pawn."
The Cambridge Theorem by Tony Cape -- "When Simon Bowles commits suicide, no one is surprised. A graduate student in mathematics at Cambridge University, Bowles had a long, well-documented history of depression. But as Detective Sergeant Derek Smailes soon discovers, he also had a passion for investigating historical mysteries and an extraordinary knack for solving them. His most recent project: uncovering the identity of the fabled fifth man in the notorious Cambridge spy-ring of the 1930s. Could Bowles possibly have solved that mystery? And could his solution, his theorem, have brought about his death?"
A Coffin for Dimitrios by Eric Ambler -- "A chance encounter with a Turkish colonel with a penchant for British crime novels leads mystery writer Charles Latimer into a world of sinister political and criminal maneuvers throughout the Balkans in the years between the world wars. Hoping that the career of the notorious Dimitrios, whose body has been identified in an Istanbul morgue, will inspire a plot for his next novel, Latimer soon finds himself caught up in a shadowy web of assassination, espionage, drugs, and treachery."
The Polish Officer by Alan Furst -- "Brilliantly imagined, vividly drawn, rich with incident and detail . . . The Polish Officer portrays ordinary men and women caught out on the sharp edge of military intelligence operations in wartime: the partisans, saboteurs, resistance fighters and idealistic volunteers risking their lives in causes that seem lost".
The Trinity Six by Charles Cumming -- "Recruited in the 1930s, the members of the Cambridge spy ring were the most notorious Soviet spies in history. But what if there were a sixth member of the ring whose identity was never revealed?"
Zoo Station by David Downing -- "A suspenseful tale of an ordinary man living in a dangerous place during a dangerous time who finds within himself the strength to do heroic acts."
Casino Royale by Ian Fleming -- "In the novel that introduced James Bond to the world, Ian Fleming’s agent 007 is dispatched to a French casino in Royale-les-Eaux. His mission? Bankrupt a ruthless Russian agent who’s been on a bad luck streak at the baccarat table."
Waiting for Sunrise by William Boyd -- "A provocative exploration of the line between consciousness and reality is nested within a tense, rollercoaster plotline following as a young English actor ensnared in a bewildering scandal with an enigmatic woman in early twentieth-century Vienna. Sophisticated, page-turning, and unforgettable, Boyd’s Waiting for Sunrise is a triumph of literary fiction from one of the most powerful, thought-provoking writers working today."
The Spy Who Loved by Clare Mulley - "Not only was Christine Granville Britain’s first woman agent in World War II but carried out some of the most daring missions ever conceived. Her biographer Clare Mulley has provided a vivid account of her activities yet maintains a balanced assessment of the results. Careful research has created sustained tension, vitality and immediacy which are truly page-turning."
Red Joan by Jennie Rooney -- "Inspired by the true story of Melita Norwood, an eighty-seven-year old woman who was unmasked as the KGB's longest serving British spy in 1999, Red Joan is a well-researched and briskly paced historical novel that questions the black-and-white morality of wartime society. Brilliantly structured and psychologically acute, this compelling novel provides no easy answers, instead offering a kaleidoscope of conflicting choices and questionable motives. And once the authorities close in, is there ever such a thing as atonement and forgiveness?"
A Gathering of Saints by Christopher Hyde -- "Nazi planes are bombing London in late 1940, and a serial killer is on the loose. The bodies turn up in the newly bombed areas. How does the murderer know where to place his victims? Scotland Yard's Detective Inspector Morris Black is ordered to find out. He meets communists Donald Maclean and Guy Burgess and writers C.P. Snow and Ian Fleming and is told about the deep secret of Ultra. Meanwhile, he is hunted by a German spy."
Decision at Delphi by Helen MacInnes -- "Just another routine overseas assignment. That's what successful young New York architect Ken Strang thought when a national travel magazine sent him to Europe to sketch Greek ruins. What he did not know, until it was too late, was that from the moment he boarded the ship, he had become the pawn in a murderous game of international intrigue." Titan Books has reissued most of Helen MacInnes's very extensive backlist--so there are lots of stories to choose from!
Touchstone by Laurie King -- "New York Times bestselling author Laurie R. King takes us to a remote cottage in Cornwall in this gripping tale of intrigue, terrorism, and explosive passions that begins with a visit to a recluse code-named . . ."
I'm not sure where my reading will take me, which of these books will be my next read, but I am sure wherever I end up it will be an adventure.
As always reading suggestions welcome. I am especially interested in stories about women spies.