Monday, September 21, 2020

55. A New Kind of War by Anthony Price

Anthony Price has been on my radar for a long, long time, dating back to when Louis XIV did an excellent series of interviews with him.  I have held off for all these years because I suspected his books might be not right for me.  I didn't know how but I have enough to read that it did hold me back until I saw one of his book last month at S.W. Welch.  The opening paragraph really worked for me and I was in need of something to kickstart my reading again.

Wow, was this a slow burn.  I mean perhaps the slowest burn of any espionage book I have ever read.  I couldn't even figure out what the plot was until page 300 of 362!   The basic set up is that Fred Fattorini, Captain in the British Army encounters a strange unit in Greece at the end of the Second World War.  He is then sent to join that unit in Germany where they are ostensibly there to study Roman ruins uncovered by recent bombing.  Even figuring out what I just typed there takes pages and pages of dialogue all done in this halting, interrupting style where Fattorini is constantly guessing as to what is actually going on and nobody will tell him anything but the slightest fragments of information.  It is actually quite frustrating and made it hard for me to get through this book, especially at a time when I needed some easy comfort reading to get my stamina back up.

The thing is, it's not bad.  It's actually really quite good.  It feels realistic, with complex and nuanced portraits of how the old boy network and class structure informed the makeup of the British army.  The descriptions of the surroundings are subtle and really give you flashes of a scene in your head (thus the seduction of the first paragraph).  Likewise the portrayal of the allies splitting up and fighting amongst themselves for the intel spoils of war as well as the various ethical and moral compromises that go with that are really well done. This is grown-up espionage, possibly too grown up for me.  You need to know your history and you need to be paying attention. 

By the end, it does all tie together in a pretty cool way.  It's one of those books where the ending is really cool because it sets the groundwork for more adventure in the future, but it doesn't feel like it has to actually tell those stories. Just the potential of it based on what came before makes it cool to read.  

Spoiler here (for my own memory when I go back to read this):  This is in some ways not a real spoiler because you could figure out a lot of it on your own and it is not a mystery per se, it's just that Price puts you in Fattorini's mind and part of the pleasure of the book is learning what the hell is going on through him.  The unit he is joined up with is tasked with finding and convincing German scientists to come to Britain to work with them.  They are rivals with the US and enemies with the Soviets in this task, and it comes out (and this is a real spoiler) that there is a traitor amongst them  The reason they are all so close-lipped and weird is because of this suspicion. Fattorini is brought in from the outside to suss the traitor out but they can't even tell him that directly until they know he is solid.  Ultimately, this book sets the stage for the cold war espionage that will dominate the decades after the war, thus the title.  Oh I see, it really is an origin story as characters from this book (which was written near the end of his career) are the younger versions of themselves in many of his earlier books.  Cool.


Nick Jones (Louis XIV, the Sun King) said...

D'you know, to my eternal shame, I still haven't got this far in the series! I can see the spine of Tomorrow's Ghost – eight books before this one – looking at me accusingly as I type. Anyway, if you get the chance to read any of the earlier books, you might find them more up your alley.

OlmanFeelyus said...

I reread your great interview and it gave me a much better idea of some of the things I struggled with this book. And it made me want to go back and read the earlier ones. This was basically the origin story, which I had no idea when I actually finished it.

They are for when you want to really concentrate and sink your teeth in, if they are anything like this one.

Nice to hear from you!