Friday, June 13, 2008

post 467. two very different spies.

a hundred years ago, g.k. chesterton dropped a detective joint called the man who was thursday - a nightmare. on a whim (and needing something to follow up another excursion into carl hiaasen-land) i bought it, since it had a fancy cover and has the blatant gimmick (but one that i'm a sucker for) of being one of penguin books' "great books for boys" series. having had my fill of carl hiaasen's rather formulaic wackery (we get it: florida's rampant development is killing florida's natural beauty), it was nice to have something a little more...old. you know, one of those books where action is interrupted by a little philosophy, as if the movements by the characters were allegories for the greater struggles of the outside world.

so it's 1908. a special police force is manned by poets and philosophers, since they're the only ones with brains capable of dealing with the white-collar criminals of the day: anarchists, which are like terrorists that eat at fancy restaurants. how awesome is this book? the main character, gabriel syme, is a fellow who lives by his word: when he infiltrates europe's secret anarchist council, he keeps his word to the man he replaces (a bad guy, mind you) that the secret of the council will never be revealed to the police. of course, one has to read this with the 1908 mindset; syme worries throughout the book how to break up this anarchist ring without breaking his word and spilling the beans to any cop on the street. it's kinda cute, in a way.

it's a world where the gentlemen in the top hats and waistcoats believe in honor and dignity, while whuppin' ass with some dueling. it's said that chesterton - depressed and christian - wrote the book to prove to himself that there was selflessness and chivalry in this yucky, bleak life of 1908; whatever the case, it's a hum-dinger of a novel. chesteron's wit is spot-on, and, as the quote from kinglsey amis says on the cover, it's "the most thrilling book i have ever read."

then we get to 2008. a hundred years later, and sebastian faulks helps us celebrate ian fleming's centennial by writing devil may care, the new james bond adventure. faulks wrote stuff like charlotte gray and whatever. the book is set in 1967, where bond is feeling a bit old and wondering if he's still got the right stuff for the job.

and what is that job? chasing after a guy with a monkey paw for a hand. not to sound too harsh, but this was the dumbest book of cliched dip-shittery: one needs only to read the asinine way bond and his hot bond-girl escape from monkey paw's prison to see that. sure, there are a lot of strains of the fleming bond in the book, but they're photocopies rather than anything new, and the book plays more like a greatest hits than anything that feels fresh. drinks, long-winded room service orders, a fucking train fight, and faulks can't even let poor felix leiter alone. the cover claims "sebastian faulks writing as ian fleming;" fleming's m would NEVER take yoga, you twit.

by the way: who is kingsley amis?