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Thursday, January 09, 2014

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of The Envoy

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of The Envoy:

The author, Edward Wilson, has a unique background. A decorated special forces officer in Vietnam, he became a permanent expatriate after he left the army and lost his US citizenship in 1986. He is now a British resident.

Interestingly, the main character’s father, was always losing his job, described as going slightly batty, after doing something honorable and honest, but unwise politically. Certainly, Kit, the diplomat who is moved into the OSS after pissing off Joseph Kennedy, has a similar streak, and one wonders what might be the relationship between those activities and Wilson’s own expatriation. 

Wilson is the ultimate cynic. At one point Kit describes espionage as a “sick place: a wilderness of mirrors inhabited by haunted minds that see only images and lies. The more plausible a truth the more cunning the deception.”

There are numerous caustic portraits of real individuals. In one piece the Dulles brothers, Foster and Allen are making fun of Edens, the Prime Minister. Kit notes that neither of the brothers had ever heard a shot fired in anger while Edens had lost two brothers and a son in the wars and won the Military Cross in 1916. They scorned his foreign policy of diplomacy and discussion while neither spoke a foreign language. Edens was fluent in German, Persian, and French and “could tell stories and tell proverbs in Arabic,” not to mention converse in Russian.

Kit’s task is to foment dissension between the British and Russians and to subvert Eden’s foreign policy. The U.S. wants to force Britain to accept hydrogen bombs on their soil. The U.S. also realizes that Britain might be the first to be vaporized in any attack. Kit is also haunted by his lust for his cousin, Jennifer, whose husband works for Britain’s own bomb project and Kit wants Jennifer to spy on him. Soon things begin to spiral out-of-control as the labyrinth of lies, deception and blackmail become overwhelming. I won't spoil things by even hinting at more.

Some great lines: “”Sorry,” [he said] That’s the thing about being born a Catholic: you always feel guilty even if it isn’t your fault. You can stop believing--it’s all infantile nonsense after all--but you can’t stop the guilt..” There’s a great scene when the Dulles brothers are trying to pry some gossip out of Kit. He tells them about this great looking woman he saw at a Washington party only to realize when he got closer and saw the hint of stubble that it was J. Edgar Hoover. Kit left the party and “heard that the party turned pretty raunchy and that the blond boys gave Hoover a hand job -- but I can’t confirm that.” Later that night Kit broke into the embassy’s taping room and erased the tape of that portion of his conversation with the Dulles boys. Kit notes late that Foster Dulles “goes about international diplomacy with all the grace of a trained chimpanzee putting out a grass fire with a wet sack.”

Or this line that sums up the book. Kit is describing a painting he likes: “the beautiful eighteenth-century house was set in an early American Arcadia. The house lies on a slight rise above the Potomac River; the thickly wooded banks are turning autumnal; there are dogs and horse-drawn carriages in the foreground, boats with sails in the background. The house was demolished in 1949 to build a four-lane highway.”

An excellent read. I’m very surprised Wilson hasn’t received more recognition. The book has a verisimilitude about it that’s quite refreshing, if not totally depressing. Actual events and people are woven into the story. The author insists that even though real people and events are mentioned, the story is fiction. One event, for example, the crash of a B-47 into a storage shed housing nuclear weapons in 1956 theoretically had the potential to wipe out much of England. All the reports I read of it assured the reader there was no chance of a nuclear explosion; then again, given the prevarication and mendacity of everyone in this book, one has to wonder.....

Possibly the best spy novel I have ever read.

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