I usually don’t read mystery/thrillers, and looking at three of them in a row is very rare. But a few weeks ago, I came across a nice signed first edition of Silva’s An Unlikely Spy (which interested me because I had enjoyed another of his books a few years ago), I had been holding on to Meltzer’s The Book of Fate (which interested me because of its focus on freemasonry), and daughter Michelle has been after me for some time to read Elizabeth George, and we had a copy of A Traitor to Memory staring at me from a bookcase.
I started with Silva. It is the depths of World War II, England is holding on but everything seems to be going in favor of the Germans and the Normandy invasion is in its early planning stage. A successful American engineer’s wife is killed in an automobile crash, he is at loose ends, and only too happy to go to London to try to help the war effort. His job is to engineer a grand deception to throw the Nazis off the trail. But he is not, I do not think, the unlikely spy. This title goes to the shy, reclusive, scholarly university professor, who is also recruited to work for his country’s espionage efforts, and who finds himself a fish seriously out of water in his new profession. Of course, the Germans are on to everything, with sleeper agents secreted in England for years waiting for an assignment, and what could be better than a beautiful young woman (German father, English mother) to seduce our American engineer, and learn (through snooping, not bed-talk) what his project is all about.
Well of course, there were tremendous efforts to throw the Germans off the trail before D-Day, although they were not the efforts described in this book. But they could have been, and the writing here carries you along, the characters (which include Churchill and Hitler, among others) are all very well drawn, suspense and the fate of the world is in the air and, believe it or not, there is a (to me) unexpected twist at the end that added to the entire story.
The book, written over ten years ago, was I believe Silva’s first. Highly recommended.
And so it was with great anticipation that I moved on to Brad Meltzer. No more would I waste my time with non-fictional histories and biographies. I had found a new genre.
Well, hold on. The new genre only lasted through 100 pages of The Book of Fate, about attempted presidential assassinations where the president was not the real target and where the real target died, and didn’t, because he had planned the whole thing. The prose was ordinary, the plot absurd, and I had to struggle even to get to page 100. (I was gratified, if that is the emotion, when I looked at customer reviews on Amazon to see that no one seemed to like this book, although several people said that his others were much, much better and that they were as disappointed in this one as I was).
So, then I got to Elizabeth George. I took a deep breath when I picked up A Traitor to Memory, because it was 722 pages long. I don’t think I had read a book of that length since The Brothers Karamazov. But I dug in. And, believe it or not, I read the entire book, and for the most part found it quite engaging. A young man, former prodigy, concert violinist, suddenly, in the middle of a concert, loses his ability to play. His father/manager sends him to a psychiatrist, and the book goes back and forth between the sessions on the couch, and what is going on in real life. In real life, his mother is killed by a hit and run driver, as is the chief police investigator on the case, and his father is hit, but not killed. He retraces his memory to the time of the death of his younger, developmentally disabled sister, and to the German nanny who served twenty years after being convicted of her murder. The nanny is recently released from prison. Is she behind his mother’s murder, and the others? Or is there more to it than this?
Apparently, two London police detectives, Haver and Lynley, have a role in all of George’s books, which form a series of sorts. And certainly, they are here, although I didn’t find their roles particularly crucial to the story itself, and I found their characters much less interesting than the others, many of whom were completely fascinating.
So the 722 pages took some time, but I don’t regret them. I do regret, however, the way the book ended. It was a little too much “Well, it’s time to wrap this up” for me. I think George could have used a little more imagination here. But I am not going to give it away. And I think you would enjoy reading the book.