Papillon by Henri Charrière

Papillon by Henri Charrière

Papillon by Henri Charrière

Papillon, was a bestseller when it was published in 1969 and who among us will not remember the Hollywood film of the same title which starred Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman. Papillon, the French for butterfly, was a nickname that was given to Charrière and it also referred to his tattoo. It is a novel about the recollections of Henri Charrière and it describes his conviction, incarceration on and subsequent escape from a prison on Devil’s Island, which was a French penal colony off the coast of French Guiana.

The author, Charrière claimed that all of the events that he wrote of were true but this was later called into question. Though some of it clearly is true it is thought that some of the scenarios and adventures may have been distilled from the lives of his fellow inmates.

The book opens with Charrières conviction in France for murder of a pimp named Roland Le Petit and following a period in prison in Caen he was sent by ship to South America and onward to the notorious Devils Island. Papillon met a fellow inmate Louis Dega who had previously been a banker prior to conviction for counterfeiting. Papillon liked Dega and protected him from other inmates. The book spans a period of fourteen years of Papillon’s life up to 1945 and covers his hardships and various escape attempts.

Papillon a fascinating tale, particularly if it was all true, and gives a real insight into the brutalities of the time and the incredible tenacity and will power of Charrière. Well worth reading, even if you have seen the film which differs in part.

Advertisements
Posted in Henri Charrière, Papillon | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

An Officer and a Spy by Robert Harris

An Officer and a Spy by Robert Harris

An Officer and a Spy by Robert Harris

Many of us will have heard of ‘The Dreyfus Affair’ and will remember it as a distant memory from history classes as a child, but I suspect, like me, your remaining knowledge will be selective and riddled with holes and inconsistencies. Such a shame when you consider this pivotal time in French military and political history before the First World War. It gripped a nation at the time and the world more generally. This novel has modern day parallels in the forms of anti-Semitism and whistle-blowers.

The 2013 novel, An Officer and a Spy is a 2013 is a fictional thriller based on these dramatic events in French history. It is written by the supremely talented and diverse journalist and writer, Robert Harris. The novel recalls the true story of the head of counter-espionage, Colonel Georges Picquart, in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

There had been some disquiet about the conviction of Dreyfus for spying and his subsequent incarceration on Devils Island off the coast of South America. An island made famous in the novel Papillon which was written by convicted criminal, Henri Charrière. Picquart began to investigate the evidence against Dreyfus, who was from a Jewish background, which he found to be very weak and that the government and military had manufactured or altered crucial evidence. Picquart was pressured to forget his findings despite his assertion that the actual spy was still operating.

Anti-Jewish feeling was running high at that time and Dreyfus initially had little public support, but following an open letter published by the highly respected writer, Émile Zola, the tide began to turn. The letter, J’accuse, was published in a French newspaper in January 1898 and was a damming indictment of the whole affair – the rest is history….as they say!

The Harris book is the recipient of the Walter Scott Prize and the American Library in Paris Book Award, both in 2014.

Harris has researched many newly released documents and many of the original sources such as newspaper reports, the court transcripts and Dreyfus’s own written recollections. This is a thoroughly enthralling spy and political intrigue thriller made all the more captivating as it is based closely on fact. Picquart is shown as a principled man who strives to expose the truth despite overwhelming opposition from superiors and his peers. His fate is utterly intertwined with that of Dreyfus and so is his final judgement. An Officer and a Spy is a superb novel which brings great clarity to the subject and is utterly thrilling.

Robert Harris was born in Nottingham in central England in 1957. Following a career in television and as a journalist he came to prominence with his best-selling novel, Fatherland. He has subsequently published a succession of top novels including Enigma, Archangel, Pompeii, Imperium, The Ghost which was made into a very effective and evocative film by Roman Polanski, The Fear Index and Dictator. He is, as you can see, a difficult man to pigeon-hole as his works are quite diverse and expertly crafted.

Posted in An Officer and a Spy, Robert Harris | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Six Days of the Condor by James Grady

Six days of the Condor by James Grady

Six days of the Condor by James Grady

American, James Grady wrote the thriller Six Days of the Condor which was first published in 1974. Grady next released a further novel following this success in 1978 called the Shadow of the Condor. Six Days of the Condor was set in Washington, D.C., and varies greatly from the film that was made in 1975 with actors Robert Redford, Max von Sydow, Faye Dunaway and Cliff Robertson.

The film, for some reason was titled Three Days of the Condor and seems to be the better known name.

Grady has written a clever, intricate novel that has a clever and believeable premis. The character, Ronald Malcolm’s job is to read the spy and mystery novels and to analyse their content and report on it. Do people really get paid for this as it’s a job made in heaven for me! Anyway, Malcolm is actually working for the CIA and is based in a secret office in Washington, D.C. By chance, Malcolm goes for lunch using an exit in the basement. On his return Malcolm finds that all of his collegaues have been shot and killed. He knows that he has had a lucky escape and that he is in danger and he immediatly calls a contact at the CIA headquarters.

On calling Malcolm gives his code name, Condor, and is ordered to meet CIA operatives. However, he fortunately survives a trap and goes on the run.

Malcolm has no where to hide and at random kidnaps a paralegal called Wendy Ross who he entreats to assist him….

I don’t want to give away too much. This is a great read in the classic style and well worth taking to the beach or on a commuter train.

Buy now:
Six Days of the Condor (Coronet Books)

Blu-ray
3 Days of the Condor [ 1975 ] Blu-Ray + extra’s

 

Posted in Fiction, James Grady, Six Days of the Condor | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Killing Floor by Lee Child

Killing Floor by Lee Child. A Jack Reacher novel.

Killing Floor by Lee Child. A Jack Reacher novel.

I decided to read the debut novel by Lee Child, Killing Floor, as I had heard so many people speak of this writer in good terms. I am glad I did. The book was utterly unputdownable….is that a word – who cares, it is certainly an experience!

Bieng a first novel it is all the more remarkable, very engaging and great character development.

Killing Floor follows the exploits of one Jack Reacher and it cuts straight to the action. Reacher is a wanderer and a former Major in the United States Army Military Police Corps.

He gets off a Greyhound bus and walks many miles into the town of Margrave in Georgia, USA. He is interested in the death of a musician named Blind Blake who died there many years before. In a diner, shortly after arriving he’s arrested for murder. He is interviewed by a detective called Finlay and he tries to prove he was not the murderer. A phone number is found in the dead man’s shoe and Finlay calls it and cons a man into telling him his name, that of a Mr. Hubble. Hubble is brought into the police station for questioning and he  cracks, confessing to the murder. Reacher, however, is sceptical. Reacher and Hubble are then sent to the state prison. Reacher averts an attempt on his life, which was intended for Hubble. two days later, Roscoe, a police woman to whom Reacher is attracted, proves……

Well if you want the rest you will just have to read Killing Floor. But don’t just believe me…this really is top fiction from Lee Child and here is a list of the awards it has won already:
Awards and nominations
1998 Dilys Award nominee
1998 Anthony Award winner, Best First Novel
1998 Barry Award winner, Best First Novel
1998 Macavity Award nominee, Best First Mystery Novel
2000 Japan Adventure Fiction Association Prize winner, Best Translated Novel

 Buy now:

Killing Floor: (Jack Reacher 1)

Happy reading!

Posted in Fiction, Killing Floor, Lee Child, Novels | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Delicate Truth by John le Carré

A Delicate Truth Novel by John le Carré

A Delicate Truth by John le Carré

 

After 9/11 the gloves came off in the espionage field and in the war on terror as Western governments grappled with this new and brutal threat from al-Qaeda.

A Delicate Truth is John le Carré’s 23rd and novel and details the conflicts between conscience, duty and the murky wworld of government cover-ups.

Toby Bell, a decent young man and private secretary to a British foreign minister, hears of a counter-terrorism operation on the crown colony of Gibraltar.

Codenamed Wildlife, the operation is being mounted in Britain’s most important colony. The plan is to capture and abduct a top jihadist arms-buyer. Toby is not cleared for it due to it’s high level secrecy and it is planned by a Foreign Office Minister and a private defence contractor.

Throughout the book there is a whiff of le Carré and his own journey through life.

The book shows the change in the world of espionage since 9/11 and it’s increasing militarisation.

The novel follows Toby as he tries to do the right thing while the plot dances around the Foreign Office corridors.

John le Carré at his best.

Buy now:

A Delicate Truth

 

Posted in A Delicate Truth, Fiction, John le Carré, Novels, Writers | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Kill List by Frederick Forsyth

The Kill List Novel by Frederick Forsyth

The Kill List by Frederick Forsyth

What can I say about Forsyth!….a giant of a writer who’s meticulous research just oozes out of the pages. I live in expectant anticipation for each new novel. Frederick Forsyth is a true master of the thriller genre.

The Kill List is highly topical, scarey and cleverly plotted. A terrorist who delivers online radical sermons and who has come to be known as The Preacher has incited some Muslims to carry out assassinations. A retired US Marine general is one of their victims, but his son is a terrorist hunter.

The terrosit hunter enlists the helps of a teenage computer geek with Asperger’s Syndrome. The young man never leaves the loft of his family home though he is a genius when it comes to the internet.

The novel races between the USA and Somalia with detailed subplots involving warlords, pirates and special forces.

Forsyth has an intense knowledge of all he writes of which is ever evident.

Frederick Forsyth is at his best in this novel and shows the true mastery he has attained through skill and exceptional hard work.

Don’t miss out on this one.

Buy now:
The Kill List

 

Posted in Fiction, Frederick Forsyth, Novels, The Kill List, Writers | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Small Death in Lisbon by Robert Wilson

A small death in Lisbon by Robert Wilson

A small death in Lisbon by Robert Wilson

I was recommended to the works of Robert Wilson by a friend of mine and I am glad I was. The espionage thriller, ‘A small death in Lisbon’, intrigued me and so, along with a love of all things Portuguese, I bought it.

Wilson is a British writer who currently lives in Portugal. He is the son of an RAF fighter pilot, and has a degree in English from Oxford. He was written crime novels based in Benin in West Africa, and also a series set mainly in Seville, in the Andalusian region of southern Spain. Born in 1957, the son of an RAF pilot,  he finished his studies with a degree in English at Oxford University which was clearly a good grounding for what was to come. Wilson won the CWA Gold Dagger for this book  and the German Crime Prize and rightly (or is it writely?) so.

 

A Small Death in Lisbon is an excellent novel by Robert Wilson and well worth the read. The story has several threads which intertwine into a lush tapestry a la finRobert Wilson sets the story in Portugal, which gives a wonderfully exotic air. It involves SS officers during the war and ranges through to sexual intrigue, murder and the contemporary investigations of Inspector José “Zé” Coelho.

Well done Robert!

Buy now:
A Small Death in Lisbon

 

Posted in A Small Death in Lisbon, Fiction, Novels, Robert Wilson, Writers | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Storm Troop by Leo Kessler

leo kessler storm troop

leo kessler storm troop

Leo Kessler, aka Charles Whiting, was a prodigious writer who died in 2007, writing some 350 fiction and non-fiction books – quite astonishing. Many of his great novels are detailed on the wonderful Fantastic Fiction site which I visit so often. I remember many happy days in my youth reading his novels of courage and danger set across the background of a wartorn Europe. He wrote mainly war novels that were exciting and easy reading.

Storm Troop is the first of the nine Stormtroop Edelweiss novels which were to detail the exploits of the crack german Mountain Troops who took as their emblem the beautiful Edelweiss flower of the high European alps. The Edelweiss was highly prized by young men who climbed into the mountains to retrieve them for their beloved.

In this Leo Kessler book the Edelweiss battalion sail through rivers and canals from their base in Bavaria down through France and into the Med. They travel from here to the Greek island of Leros where they land and attack British and Italian positions in the mountains just prior to an airborne assault by German parachutists and German troops who are landed from ships. This is a fast paced, fictitious, fun tale of danger among Greek islands during the war and is well worth a read.

Buy now:

Storm Troop

 

Posted in Fiction, Leo Kessler, Novels, Storm Troop, Writers | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Eye of the Needle by Ken Follett

Eye of the needle by Ken Follett

Eye of the needle by Ken Follett

The Eye of the Needle is a WWII spy thriller written by Ken Follett. The fiction novel was first published in 1978 by Penguin and was originally called Storm Island. This book was Follett’s first success and in 1979 he won the Edgar Award for Best Novel from the Mystery Writers of America.  The novel was made into a film in 1981 with Donald Sutherland.

During WWII the Allies tried to convince the Nazis that the D-Day landings were to be at Calais and not in Normandy. They made up a fictitious First United States Army Group (FUSAG) to this end, with fake tanks, buildings and dummy radio traffic to give the impression of an army ready to land at Calais.   In 1940 London Henry Faber is a German spy, called the needle, die Nadel’ in German, named for the stilleto knife he uses to kill people. Faber kills his landlady after she catches him making a radio call to Germany. The novel tells of David and his wife Lucy. He is an ex-RAF pilot who is diabled and they have moved to Storm Island off the coast of Scotland.

MI5 has recruited or hanged all German spies except Faber who is very cunning.  Godliman and his assistant Bloggs work for MI5 and are trying to catch him.

Faber is sent by the Nazis to check FUSAG is real and he finds in fact that it is a deception. Faber then heads to Scotland to rendevous with a German Uboat to escape with the information back to Germany. Faber is tracked to Scotland by MI5. After stealing a boat to get to the sub he is shipwrecked on Storm Island.   David and Lucy care for him but he kills David after he finds out about him being a spy. Lucy, who was unhappy in her marriage is getting out of the bath and about to put on her lingerie when Faber walks in and sees her naked. After this they fall for each other and Lucy sleeps with Faber Lucy finds her husband’s body and realizes that Faber has killed him.   Faber tries to radio the Nazis information about FUSAG but Lucy blows the electricity in the cottage to cut the radio. Unable to send a radio message and unable to kill Lucy who he now loves, Faber tries to escape down the cliff to swim to the waiting U-boat. Lucy throws a rock down on him and after one hits him he falls to his death.

The RAF then attack the Uboat. MI5 send a false radio message with Faber’s call sign to trick the Germans into believing that the invasion will be at Calais. Bloggs comforts the Lucy and then eventually gets married to her.

Buy now:

Book

Eye of the Needle

DVD

Eye Of The Needle [DVD]

Posted in Eye of the Needle, Fiction, Ken Follett, Novels, Writers | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

There’s no escape by Ian Serraillier

Theres no escape by Ian Serraillier

Theres no escape by Ian Serraillier

Ian Serraillier  was born on 24 September 1912 and died on 28 November 1994. He was a British novelist and also a poet. Probably best known for his children’s books, he also wrote novels for adults such as There’s no escape which was published in 1956. . He was born in London and in 1918 his father died in the flu pandemic when he was six years old. He went on to be educated at Brighton College and next took his degree at St Edmund Hall, Oxford and becoming an English teacher.  He was granted conscientious objector status in World War II because he was a Quaker. His first children’s novel was published in 1946 and was quickly followed by several more adventure stories. His best known work,

In There’s no escape Maclaren, who is the chief of secret agents, arranged to parachute Peter into war-torn Silvania (nominally an unspecified county in the Balkans), where he was tasked with rescuing  Dr Helpmann before the enemy caught him and extracted information about his new discoveries. Peter agreed to go reluctantly.

This is a fast-moving adventure story by Ian Serraillier, set in wartime Europe with a dark cloud hanging over it. The book is an easy read which has a taut plot featuring parachutes, inventions and secret codes. One of the first books I ever read and many times since, re-read.

Buy now:
There’s No Escape (Puffin Books)

 

Posted in Fiction, Ian Serraillier, Novels, There's No Escape | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment