Tag Archives: library

The English Section: A Game of Spies by John Altman


Disclaimer: This book review is brought to you by a reader of fantasy, comedy, Y.A. and occasional sci-fi. It is NOT brought to you by someone who usually reads – or watches – WW2 spy novels. I know relatively little about WW2 and much less about the business of spying. I haven’t even watched a James Bond movie. So there you go.

I bitched quite a lot about this book on Twitter.

However, now I’ve finished the book, I’m thinking my bitchiness was perhaps not entirely justified.

Now, I’m not saying anything in those tweets was false. There was, indeed, a total deus ex machina moment whereby Hobbs, the guy who got shot in the leg, just sort of woke up in his car and somehow managed to drive off. And I did have a teensy bit of trouble suspending disbelief at the fact that not only did he manage to get away with a bullet wound in his leg, but he also – after perfunctory care and a bit of bandaging – managed to drag himself, via various means, out into the countryside where he survives for several days alone, in the cold, with no change of bandages and no real help. In fact, without spoiling, the amount of things this guy manages to do with a bullet wound in his leg is pretty amazing, especially since, in all other aspects (and as mentioned above), he is spectacularly incompetent for an MI6 spy, and only manages to survive due to the even more spectacular incompetence of the Gestapo (whom I have been led to believe were far from incompetent in real life), and sheer luck.

However, a few things – clichés I expected to see played out – turned out not to be what I expected. You don’t see the passionate love affair the protagonist, Eva, and her “recruiter”, Hobbs, which happens before the story begins. And in fact, it’s not all that passionate, not in a sexual sense, anyway:

“[…] she had put terrific pressure on herself to enjoy the time spent in bed with him. When she had failed, she knew that she had disappointed them both.”

This, at the beginning of the book, is what made me think: Huh. Not exactly what the blurb had me expecting. And that intrigued me.

There are passages from the Nazi officers’ points of view, too. There’s Frick, who is not quite right in the head to begin with and who, as the story progresses, appears to be losing it completely. And then there’s his superior, Hagen, who seems like a normal guy just trying to do his job, who works too hard and badly needs a holiday. You almost sympathise with him sometimes. You kinda hope he’s secretly a goodie. Minor spoiler – he’s not.

The story doesn’t end the way I expected it to, either. Not by a mile. The plan both succeeds and fails, and – as we know from history – the war begins regardless. The characters are deeper than they originally appear, and the author isn’t afraid of killing one or two of your favourites just for the drama. The style, though not exceptional, is very readable and focuses on the action. All in all, despite the incoherences, it’s a good read.


The English Section: The Killing Of The Saints – Alex Abella


I’ve recently discovered our local library, which has a large selection of English books, most of which are not the sort I’d usually read (fantasy, comedy or both). In the aim of opening my mind (and to avoid dithering in front of said bookshelves for ages while my partner and child wait impatiently to leave), I’ve decided to read all of them, one by one, in the order I find them, that is according to the Dewey decimal system, and to do a book review of each one. Of course, I’ll miss some because they’ll be taken out, but I’ll just pick those up later as I go along.

The first book is called The Killing Of The Saints by Alex Abella.


Not sure I want to know what the image is supposed to be.

It’s about a lawyer who, seemingly in spite of himself, ends up having to defend a mass murderer who claims he was possessed by a god – that’s what the blurb says. It’s also about racism and corruption and politics. It’s about a guy who goes above and beyond the call of duty to defend a mass murderer who he secretly hopes will end up with a death sentence, because even he has a right to a proper defence. It’s about a man who seems bent on destroying his own life, who subconsciously sentences himself to misery for crimes you can’t entirely blame him for, but you can’t say he’s entirely innocent, either. It’s about dealing with huge moral grey areas with a justice system that sees only in black and white.

And it’s about gods and ghosts and religious fanatics, and you could probably explain away most of the scenes through mass hysteria etc., but then you could also not, and choose to believe, because it’s a story, and it gives you that choice.

Unfortunately, what with my new motherly duties, I didn’t actually manage to finish this book before I had to return it, which is not an excellent start to a project which entails doing book reviews, but never mind. I got to the very last chapter, which I think was something of an epilogue – in other words, I know how the trial turned out. I don’t know what the deal with the ghost was (you’ll see what I mean if you read the book, I’m not saying more because no spoilers), but I can tell the last chapter attempts to explain it. I want to finish the book, and maybe I’ll speed-read the ending next time I’m in the library, but that would be a pity, because speed-reading means skipping all the colourful descriptions that drew me in in the first place.

I give it four stars on Goodreads, because it wasn’t at all what I expected, and I had no idea how it would end until I read it (and I still want to read the bit I didn’t finish). It introduced me to a culture (Cuban latino) and a religion (Santeria) that I knew little to nothing about, which was fun, I mentally read almost all the dialogues in a Brooklyn accent (despite it being set in L.A.) which was also fun, and I didn’t expect the paranormal aspect to be such a big part of the story, which was interesting in a crime novel. I liked how there were odd bits of Spanish – artfully translated by the narrator where needed – that immersed me in a whole different culture to the ones I know. The legal stuff goes right over my head, but that’s ok – the author tells it in such a way as not to make it boring.

The main character is deeply flawed, sometimes downright stupid in his life decisions, and often a bit of a twat. The moral principles he lives by make him hate the environment and the people he lives with, who seem to have none for the most part, and he also hates himself for past transgressions that, while they’re undeniably serious, are also somewhat understandable given the circumstances, and god this is hard to talk about without spoiling anything, so I’ll just say this: it’s a good book. If you see in your local library, take it out and read it.

Wow, I am shite at book reviews. Join me in three weeks (or less, if we’re lucky) for my opinion on whatever I’ve managed to read of Alentejo Blue by Monica Ali.