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Ghost Station Paperback – May 28, 2016
"Warlight" by Michael Ondaatje
A dramatic coming-of-age story set in the decade after World War II, "Warlight" is the mesmerizing new novel from the best-selling author of "The English Patient." Pre-order today
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4.5 stars rounded to 5.
If you love James Bond, you will love this story. I abandoned reading spy thrillers few years ago, but was interested in trying one again, and I found this book a much more exciting reading experience for me than the other book by this writer that I previously reviewed.
The book begins with a bang, and throws you right in the middle of British Intelligence's work, when John Dashwood is being forced out of his retirement to "temporarily" assume duties of the director of the Ghost Station, and as the blurb tells us, he is being asked to supervise his "last" mission. I could not wait to turn the next page, so excited and worried for the characters I was. It is not written as a simplistic action movie, and what John does in the headquarters was often as much exciting and fun as what Rick and Harry encounter in the course of their mission.
While it is first and foremost a spy/thriller, there is also a secondary tender love story thrown in, which to me it was very believable and pleasant. I enjoyed every second of this romantic element and watching our protagonists grow significantly closer to each other over the course of the story, but it did not overshadow the fact that guys were working and doing their jobs.
"Not for the first time he wondered what would happen if there was no Harry Tilney to make the world bearable for him; he tried to visualize it, and he didn't like what he saw."
For some reason the sentences like this one, which showed the characters' emotions mixed in with the action and operative work, just made the story so much richer. It was a joy to read and see how slowly but surely Harry and Rick grow closer and closer together while doing a dangerous work, their lives being in constant danger.
The adventure plot is complex and sophisticated involving British Intelligence and the CIA, and things are not what they seem indeed as the blurb tells us. As with many spy stories, you just have to suspend disbelief and go along for the ride, and this is brings me to why the book was not a five star read for me, even though I really, really wanted to give it five stars during the most time I was reading it as I really loved it overall.
I found myself having a problem with the contrast between the agents for the CIA and British Secret Service. Keep in mind, I have no expertise as to what real life Intelligence Service, CIA and other like organizations do, but I think (and I will be beyond happy to stand corrected) that some stunts that the CIA and British Secret Service did in the name of their "rivalry" here were rather more suited to fighting with the KGB. Plus one thing John does during the course of the operation just made me roll my eyes. This was just a weird experience for me -- I cannot say more because of spoilers -- but let me say that this somewhat ruined an excellent and very entertaining book for me. Again, if this is all based in reality, well I certainly learned something new. I expected ruthlessness and grey morality, if not the absence of such, but I would think that every organization like this has grey -- if any at all -- moral standards taught to their people. Here we have a British Intelligence Service organization, who I felt mostly consisted of idealists (our several main characters anyway), and the CIA, who are not.
While our main characters do not come off as caricatures -- they are interesting, sympathetic, likeable people -- I just felt that the contrast between the British and American agents was rather artificial. On the other hand, I suppose it is pretty common for a writer to portray an organization of spies from your country as better and more decent than others. And I am not objecting to it because I live in the US and am an American citizen. Believe me, it would have been an eye rolling moment for me if the CIA was portrayed as consisting mostly of idealists and the British as consisting of ruthless people who would do anything to achieve their goals. I think all intelligence agents are very coldblooded and brutal and do a lot of shady things, that's all. I think idealism has no place inside those organizations and they all easily sacrifice their agents in the name of "higher" goals.
Lastly I thought that villain's motivations were a touch melodramatic.
Despite my niggles, overall the book was an excellent read for me and it is highly recommended.
Set in the 1970s, British Intelligence meets its world match as they search for a missing servant of the Crown, unaware of the real dangers as real and as present as a breath.