Bowdoin Reads

Professor Heurlin is reading...

The Better Angels
by Charles McCarry

The book I am currently reading is Charles McCarry’s The Better Angels. I say this with no small sense of regret, since I’ve been reading this book for at least nine months. More accurately, I’ve been not reading it for at least nine months. It perhaps comes as no surprise that the guilty pleasure of a Government professor is reading spy novels. This novel, however, is just making me feel guilty. I immensely enjoyed McCarry’s first two novels, The Miernik Dossier and The Tears of Autumn (spoiler alert: the Vietnamese killed Kennedy!). The novels evoke a certain Cold War tension that post-Cold War spy novels somehow have not been able to sustain. The collapse of the Soviet Union may have been good for Eastern Europe, but it was a catastrophe for spy novels (and, apparently, Vladimir Putin). I am (or at least was) looking forward to reading his latest outing, The Shanghai Factor, which presumably takes place in China, a place near and dear to my heart. Yet I’ve been stuck on The Better Angels for quite a while. Perhaps part of the problem is that The Better Angels—which was written in 1979—is set in the “future” year of 2000. I also feel like I’m a victim of bait-and-switch. The book’s cover proclaims it to be a “Paul Christopher novel,” the protagonist of his two previous novels. But I’m halfway through the book and Paul is nowhere to be seen. Maybe it’s just because he’s a good spy, but I’d like to think a careful reader would have noticed him by now. I would like to blame the slow pace at which I have been reading The Better Angels on my son, Hans, but since he’s only four weeks old that hardly seems fair. After all, last week I tore through Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl. But that book was good.

Be the first to comment | Find in library