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Literary Glance: House of Spies by Daniel Silva

August 5, 2017

House of Spies by Daniel Silva so far has lots of thinking and planning in it.  In the first couple chapters, characters think a lot.  They think about their lives, their careers, and their relationships, and that’s usually done while sitting at an office, walking down a street, or eating a meal.  That’s a lot of my life too, the planning and thinking about things, not the espionage.

I’m not criticizing House of Spies for having think/planning in it!  I promise.  I still like it.

The planning and thinking (that I’m NOT complaining about) is interrupted by a terrorist attack that is written differently than most fictional violent scenes:

The venerable Garrick Theatre had seen world wars, a cold war, a depression, and the abdication of a king.  But never had it witnessed anything like what occurred at 8:20 that evening, when five ISIS terrorists burst into the theatre and began firing into the crowd.  More than a hundred would perish during the first thirty seconds of the assault, and another hundred would die in the terrible five minutes that followed, as the terrorists moved methodically through the theatre, row by row, seat by seat.  Some two hundred fortunate souls managed to escape through the side and rear exits, along with the entire cast of the production and stagehands.  Many would never work in the theatre again.

The rest of the terrorist scene is as methodical as the terrorists’ technique.  The author goes scene by scene, place by place, to describe how the terrorists hit several locations simultaneously.  It’s well-written.  It’s also kind of unemotional.

Murder/killing scenes are tough to get right because authors sometimes get melodramatic.  In this scene from House of Spies, the reader doesn’t know any of the victims.  We just learn that several hundred people get murdered at one time.  Other authors would often include anecdotes about individual victims, to give the reader a sense of the fear, helplessness, sorrow, or pain.  Some authors will devote entire chapters to make an irrelevant character feel real, jut to casually kill off that character and never mention him/her again.  But this scene is clinical.  The reader feels almost nothing.  But the reader knows that the massacre was thought out.  And planned.

Popular spy books and popular spy movies are often opposites.  A spy movie has lots of action with just a little bit of thinking/plotting, enough to give the audience a slight reason for all the action (and sex).  The planning/plotting doesn’t even have to make sense, as long as the action (and sex) is cool.  A spy book should be plotting/planning with a little bit of action/sex to keep readers from falling asleep.

For example, most James Bond movies don’t look anything like the books they’re based on, except for From Russia with Love (and maybe a couple others). The Jason Bourne movies might be closer to the books, but the books were almost as stupid as the movies.  At least, I thought the books were stupid when I read them.  And I read them when I was in high school.  If I thought a book was stupid in high school, it was either really stupid or it went over my head.  I don’t think the Bourne books go over anybody’s head.  But I still liked reading them.

If you like your spy novels with lots of action, House of Spies might not be for you, at least not from what I’ve read so far.  If you like to read about characters thinking, this is great.  I don’t mind thinking in my espionage books.  Some great spy novels have lots of thinking in them, and that makes sense.  A spy who doesn’t think or plan will end up dead.  Even I know that, and I’m not a spy.

So I’m not complaining about all the thinking and planning!  I’m going to keep reading House of Spies, maybe just because of all the thinking and planning.

House of Spies follows another Silva novel The Black Widow, with the same main character, so I might have to go back and read The Black Widow first.  I just might go to the book store, or I might buy it on my Kindle, or I might not read it at all.  No matter what I choose, I’ll think about it first.  And plan.

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