We have a guest post today from Stephanie DePue. Stephanie was a freelance journalist in her careless youth, with home port at The Village Voice. She also wrote many pieces for Newsday, as well as reviews, articles and celebrity interviews for Downbeat, Cavalier and Travel magazines. She's a fan of travel, sailing, the gym, felines and other animals, and movies of all genres. Her reading preferences are mysteries (of course) and biography.
This entertaining book can best be described as a spy caper within a spy caper, set more than 20 years after the supposed end of the Cold War. Bill Cage, the protagonist, who narrates first person, is a diplomat's son who grew up all over the place, but mostly in Eastern Europe; specifically, Vienna, Prague, Budapest and Berlin. The book opens in 1984, a few years before the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall, with Cage a journalist hoping to be a novelist. He is interviewing American spy-turned-novelist Edwin Lemaster. The virtues of Lemaster's work, Cage says, cause the young journalist to consider famed British spy novelist John le Carré to be more the British Lemaster, than for longtime CIA stalwart Lemaster to be the American le Carré. (Hah! As if, says I.)
At any rate, Lemaster, primed with too much alcohol, hints to the young journalist that he'd thought of working for the enemy. Upon publication, this disclosure causes brief scandals in some––CIA––circles, and hastens Bill's departure from the world of journalism.
Then, some of the more modern guys. Eric Ambler, Epitaph for a Spy; John Buchan, The Thirty-Nine Steps; Graham Greene, The Confidential Agent, Our Man in Havana, The Human Factor; John le Carré, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, The Looking Glass War; and Len Deighton, The Ipcress File, Funeral in Berlin. I love them all, and enjoyed Fesperman's reference to their plots and places. For example:
Eric Ambler, I thought. I had become like a prototypical leading man in an Ambler novel, one of those Everyman types who blunders into something bigger than himself, then keeps tripping over his own two feet. While the professionals circle for the kill. If it wasn't so foolhardy it might be funny. Give me enough time and maybe I'd be like Jim Wormold, the vacuum cleaner salesman in Graham Greene's Our Man in Havana, who faked intelligence reports to earn extra cash only to have all his dark postings start coming true, leaving him caught in the middle. High comedy, except at the moment I didn't feel like laughing.
Fesperman is a nice smooth writer; he's given us good dialog, excellent narrative writing and an ingenious, audacious, enjoyable plot with a MacGuffin––as famed Anglo-American director Alfred Hitchcock used to call that which all the fuss is about in a mystery––that doesn't require too wrenching a suspension of disbelief. His descriptive writing of the places he's set his novel is evocative. I loved the presentation of the advance reading copy; all done up in brown paper and string, as were the books Bill and his father picked up when they dipped their toes into the spy trade. And very exciting to me, as I've long been fascinated by Vienna, Prague and Budapest and am, in fact, planning to visit them soon. I can see that I will have to take this book along as a travel guide. But the author really can't be compared to the greats of the genre, Ambler, Greene and le Carré. He lacks their moral seriousness, their deep feelings for their characters and their country. Fesperman, at least in this, is a no-calorie writer. But fun.
The Double Game was published by Alfred A. Knopf on August 21, 2012.
Note: I received a free copy of The Double Game for review. A version of this review appears on the Amazon product page under my name.