sparrows

Grumbles about books read lately–with footnote at the top

Well, after all my bloviating about the books described below I was settled into a good book by a guy who seems to really get the wilderness of mirrors represented by the CIA and other intelligence services. Not only that, he’s a remarkable writer. The book was “Legends” and posited an operative who had become lost in his legends (spook speak for cover story) to the extent he was being examined for multiple personalities. This was a delicious read on many levels. James Bond this guy certainly was not; but his quirky quasi romance was very intriguing. The trauma that split his personalities was psychologically apt and creepy. One of his incarnations was a Civil War buff who really seemed to think he had been there; this gave an opportunity for some clever twists that tied very neatly back to the trauma that divided him in the first place. One of his iterations came within an ace of nailing bin Laden before 9-11. Believably so. The thrust of the novel was a mega road trip all over the world, doubling back in time and space but never losing you.

The legend building committees at Langley were a real trip;anyone who has attended story conferences where a movie is put together by committee would recognize the cast of characters and wonder does the CIA follow Hollywood or vice versa. Delightful stuff. Here and there were little tidbits of history or pseudo history–did the term hooker really evolve from General Joe Hooker’s Civil War camp followers? Makes sense when you realize a person named Crapper invented the flush toilet, n’est pas? Did the Queen really score a 400-yard bullseye with a Whitworth rifle and knight the guy on the spot? Don’t know but cool bit of business. Ambiguity, irony, history, a plausible plot (sort of) a great read. BUT. But, Judy, if you read this, this expert on the CIA and evidently on weapons systems of all kinds, had a female react to the “cold metal handle” of a gun worn by the split personality. In the tropics! At least when you did it in your book,Judy, it was rainy damp Seattle. Still inaccurate but more logical than expecting a gun to stay cold in the tropics when tucked in a SOB holster. (And forget the metal handle crap–that’s just stupid.

So even the smoothest and evidently most aware can make these silly mistakes that make you question some of the other suspensions of disbelief to which you are invited.(He added a whole line of country about dummy rounds in pistols that you could spot by noticing the dummy cartridge was lighter weight than an live round, attributing the practice to Sicilians. My achin’back! If you want to fool a gunsel into thinking he’s got a fully charged piece, then pull the bullet, dump the powder, reseat the bullet. You have real bullet, real primer, real case–no powder. Unless you shake each one close enough to your ear to determine there is no shift of powder inside, you would be fooled. I don’t know anyone who has the built in ability to detect the absence of 6 or 7 grains of Bullseye or other propellant by weighing a cartridge with a 145-grain bullet properly seated. If there are such paragons of course, talcum powder could be added to measure. Or you could simply scoot the case full of WD 40 to soak the powder inert.

One more grumble–the author described a guy using an M-1 with iron sights shooting within a minute of angle but the inches described indicate the range must have been more than 600 yards. One minute=One inch at 100 yards, two at two hundred, etc. You can certainly walk an M 1 or an M 14 onto the target at those ranges but not without sighting the rifle in first! I blew up my hearing when the drill instructor figured out I knew how to sight in rifles and made me stay on the line all day helping city boys–you get on the paper at 25, and when you can put them in about a single hole there then and only then you move to 100 and out. Argh. Is the tradecraft and other good stuff as carelessly researched as the shooting? Too bad; it’s a damn good read

p>Bought a fat paperback from a big company at Walmart…great photo on the cover of a motorcycle buzzing down the Champs; cover hype et

c.

Story line: ex US Marshal who specializes now in grabbing abducted kids and getting them home. Interesting. Kid swiped in Paris, French police clueless, ask for help, he goes to work and pretty soon has nosed out two German suspects blond blue eyed and slobs–with snarky remarks about how he thought Germans were neat freaks)…but they have escaped the room they turned into a pig sty though conveniently leaving behind a train schedule with Berlin circled. But how to find two blond blue eyed Germans in Berlin asks the French police inspector who seems slightly less bright than the famous Lestrad.

How indeed, when the police supposedly are all over helping the hero? Uhhh fingerprints on the dozens of beer cans and pizza boxes and crap in the room just abandoned? After all, France perfected AFIS and sold to American law enforcement years ago. And with all the EEU databases around, odds are good these perps are in the system, n’est pas?

Not a chance. Good luck the French say and watch him go off to find two blue eyed blond perps in Berlin al fresco.

Of course when he gets to Berlin his old time chum there tells him he is wanted by the German police for second degree murder after a chase went bad and someone he was chasing ran in front of a trolly. Of course when the French police were checking him out, no EEU warrants for him from Germany. When he flew into Orly (CdG these days) his passport raised no red flags though surely Interpol would have had him listed if no one else.

I gave up there. Just couldn’t hack any more. Do these large publishers no longer have real editors? No fact checkers? When I began writing at age 14 I elected Science Fiction because I knew I didn’t know enough about the world to write details like that, but in SF all I had to do was be internally consistent to the world I created. No less a legend that John W Campbell Jr pronounced my work sound six years later and bought my first novel for serialization, and challenged me to flesh out some of my concepts and write even more, so that 90,000 words became 120,000. When I worked with Doubleday back then there were not only editors but proof readers and fact checkers who reviewed every spelling of every made up alien name for consistency.

I’m told it doesn’t work that way anymore. I am lucky in my present publisher in that he and I broke into the newspaper business together right around the time I published my first SF novel, and we were trained in the old good ways of journalism. When I created SKOOK this past year, he kept an active eye on the development of the manuscript. The work has proved pretty popular in its early going,so we did okay.

I am a lifelong reader and willing to forgive plenty when it comes to writers’ stumbles, because I know how hard it is to get it right. I have hobby horses of course: you CANNOT cock a Glock! (If you write about firearms you should at least know how they work.) Ian Fleming was bad about this, having his James Bond use a .30-30 (!) as a sniper rifle. And god knows how many people talk about “safeties” on revolvers.

When Judy Jance and I hung out from time to time years ago (between her first novel and her second) I advised her that pistol “handles” (grips) did not remain steely cold all day in a shoulder holster to shock a blushing woman on contact in a clinch–they achieve body temperature (and they usually ain’t metal anyway–they used to be wood, mostly plastics these days.) She reacted very strongly in a good way–said it made her stomach hurt to get such a detail wrong. She became famous and I went to work for a state police agency where I learned even more about how things really work inside police circles.

Ironically many of those guys knew less about firearms than me; but I wasn’t completely surprised. An old friend and mentor who was a gunsmith once showed me a chrome plated revolver brought to him by a “town clown” (small town cop) who thought it was broken when he went to qualify and the cylinder wouldn’t revolve. He had sent it off to a fancy shop to have it chromed and the chrome was so thick it bound the cylinder. He would have had an awful shock if he had to get in a gunfight before then.

One last grumble: I have been reading an excellent spy novel by an ex spook who seems to know how to write. But in a throwaway sentence he had a senior case officer toss a pistol to the hero in a safe house just in case–and identified it as a PPK/S “a ladies gun”. The PPK was of course Bond’s gun of choice, a smaller version of the PP; meant for plainclothes cops. The PP was the uniform version. Either would be a mouse gun by American standards. But here’s the thing: a PPK/S is an American import developed after a stupid gun law banned import of PPKs; the PPK/S stands for sights. Adding larger sights than the original permitted it to come in. So why would a CIA overseas officer use the American import when he could easily use the original?

Granted this is a much smaller thing than having somebody “cock” a Glock. But it’s hard to suspend disbelief when too many of these things stack up. Fortunately that’s the only one I noticed in an otherwise workmanlike tale of spydom in the post Soviet era.

Avoid at all costs “Good as Gone,” the blue eyed boys in Berlin book.

Check out and enjoy “Red Sparrow” if for nothing more than the ostensible instructions listed for sparrows by their humorless sex teachers; these have the ring of verisimilitude.

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