4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
"It's like something you'd read in a novel...",
This review is from: The Double Game (Hardcover)
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... says one character in this particular spy novel, as protagonist Bill Cage, a middle-aged PR guy in Washington DC, recounts his string of unexpected adventures in central Europe. Indeed -- and that's the delight of this novel, an homage to the great spy thrillers of past decades and a "thumping good read" in its own right, even if it doesn't measure up to the classics like Ambler or LeCarre.
Back in 1984, Cage is an ambitious young journalist who unexpectedly scores an interviews with a reclusive former spy-turned-espionage writer, Edwin Lemaster - and then winkles out of him the admission that during his years at the CIA Lemaster had contemplated becoming a double agent. "For the thrill of it. The challenge," the novelist explains. That confession of sorts becomes a brief sensation, Lemaster becomes still more reclusive (and never grants another interview). Those pages may mark the beginning of this novel, but they are only a preface. The real action starts some 26 years later when Cage -- now a disillusioned former reporter toiling away at his soul-destroying PR job in is pushed into following a trail of clues laid out by a mysterious handler to find evidence that Lemaster really had been a "double."
It's a fantastic narrative journey, in part because Fesperman draws heavily on classic espionage books as clues and that usher Cage on his way at critical junctures in Cage's quest. Eerily, each step he takes seems to take him not only closer to the truth about Lemaster (perhaps...) but also back into his own personal history, as he travels from one to another of the cities that he inhabited at the height of the Cold War, a motherless child whose father was posted to US embassies in Belgrade, Budapest, Prague, Vienna and Berlin. The secrets he uncovers turn out -- perhaps coincidentally? to deal with his own past, as well as Lemaster's.
Is Bill Cage now starring in his own spy novel? And if so, who is its author -- who is scripting the action? Will Cage meet a fate like Harry Lime; will he be found bleeding to death on rain-slick cobblestones in a grimy back street in Prague? Or will he unearth the ultimate secret? And if so -- what is it? The exposure of a traitor or something else altogether? Fesperman kept me guessing, as Cage is transformed from a former devoted reader of classic spy novels -- a passion shared with Lemaster and his own father, whose own past turns out to be not quite as clear as Cage had believed -- into a participant.
Is this as accomplished a work as many of the classics Fesperman cites. Nope. Does that matter? Well, not to me. The fun of this book for a spy thriller fan lies in the "wink wink; nudge nudge" element as much as in the plot -- the way Fesperman deftly incorporates aspects of the works of masters of the genre into his own work. What is artifice and fiction, and what is reality? Even the characters sometimes get caught up in the blending of fact and fiction, as real life spies emerge with names from spy classics. "Next you'll think I'm acting like someone in a book, and I'm guessing I won't like the comparison," one character tells Cage rather bitterly.
If what you are looking for in a spy thriller is non-stop action, chase scenes, etc., this isn't the book for you. (It's more like Alan Furst than Daniel Silva in tone.) This novel is about the secrets that spies keep, and the layers that must be unraveled to arrive at something resembling the "truth". Even if your passion is for the greats of the genre, what Fesperman has done is pay them a great tribute here; perhaps it's the ultimate fan-fiction for espionage novel afficionados. In any event, I'm rating it 4.5 stars and rounding up since it was a nonstop and delightful read. Recommended.