Saturday, April 24, 2010

Thomson's debut novel is one fun read

To continue to believe in the mystery and magic of the Wizard, it's important not to pull back the curtain.

The same is true of certain books. It's dangerous to explore the premise because it's likely to fall apart. Such is the case with Keith Thomson's debut novel, Once A Spy.

The conceit of Once A Spy is that retired CIA agent Drummond Clark has Alzheimer's and a whole lot of people are concerned what Clark, now highly vulnerable, might tell other people. Consquently, Drummond's life is in danger from his own colleagues. So far, so good.

But despite the Alzheimer's, which damages his memory-retrieval process, Drummond still reacts like a spy. As the author explains through one of the characters, "Alzheimer's caused minimal motor impairment. Ten years from onset, patients could tie a tie, bake a cake, even create a web site." Or, in Drummond's case, fly a helicopter, conceive various schemes of escape and fire a variety of weapons with deadly accuracy.

If you think about it too long, it strains the bonds of credibility that a 60-something retiree with Alzheimer's is staying ahead of the bad guys, or escaping their nefarious clutches, as long (and as often) as Drummond manages to do. So, don't think about it. Because Thomson has given us a fun little novel. This is one great read.

Drummond is aided by his estranged son, Charlie. Charlie's a good guy -- and good looking -- but his downfall is the ponies. When the novel opens, Charlie owes a good deal of money to a Russian mobster because of a horse that finished well, but not well enough.

Charlie turns out to be a natural and together he and his father lead their pursuers on a merry chase.

Here's my recommendation: Block off a few hours, settle in to a cozy chair, suspend disbelief, have a little notepad handy to keep track of the body count and enjoy. And one other thing: Once A Spy doesn't read like a screenplay, but it's ultimate destiny is on the big screen. Join me in casting the movie to be made from this delightful book.

* * *
I hate to express disappointment over Alberto Manguel's newest book, A Reader on Reading, but disappointed I was. Manguel's written some terrific books on reading, but -- despite the title's promise -- this isn't one of them.

A Reader on Reading is a series of essays that appeared in a variety of venues . . . the preface to books, magazine articles . . . that sort of thing. As such, some of the essays are very much about reading, but in others reading is a peripheral to the subject at hand.

There's some nice stuff here, but not enough to sustain a book. If you are unfamiliar with Manguel, I encourage you to pick up The Library at Night. It's a far more satisfying work.

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