About Me

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Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada
I am a lawyer in Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada who enjoys reading, especially mysteries. Since 2000 I have been writing personal book reviews. This blog includes my reviews, information on and interviews with authors and descriptions of mystery bookstores I have visited. I strive to review all Saskatchewan mysteries. Other Canadian mysteries are listed under the Rest of Canada. As a lawyer I am always interested in legal mysteries. I have a separate page for legal mysteries. Occasionally my reviews of legal mysteries comment on the legal reality of the mystery. You can follow the progression of my favourite authors with up to 15 reviews. Each year I select my favourites in "Bill's Best of ----". As well as current reviews I am posting reviews from 2000 to 2011. Below my most recent couple of posts are the posts of Saskatchewan mysteries I have reviewed alphabetically by author. If you only want a sentence or two description of the book and my recommendation when deciding whether to read the book look at the bold portion of the review. If you would like to email me the link to my email is on the profile page.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Secret Lovers (1977) by Charles McCarry

Secret Lovers (1977) by Charles McCarry – In the early 1960’s Paul Christopher is in Berlin to receive a package from Horst Bulow, a long time low level agent working for American intelligence. The transfer is successfully made. Moments later a car roars past Christopher and strikes Bulow killing him.

Christopher learns that the package contains the hand written manuscript of an epic Russian novel on life in the Soviet Union. It is effectively an expose of Communism. I was reminded of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s masterpiece, The Gulag Archipelago. The writer, Kiril Kamensky, has recently been released from prison camp. He has been working on the book for decades. The manuscript has been smuggled to the West through a series of couriers.

Christopher is puzzled by the killing. If it was the KGB that has killed Bulow why would they wait until after the transfer and why have the earlier couriers not been immediately captured and interrogated.

Christopher, after returning to Paris, consults the aging Otto Rothchild and his much younger wife, Maria, about the manuscript and the circumstances of Kamensky. The aging and ailing Rothchild was raised in Russia before the Revolution of 1917 and has a comprehensive knowledge of the people and events who have shaped European history in the almost 50 years after the Communists seized power.

Should the manuscript be published now or when Kamensky has died or left the U.S.S.R.? What will be the consequences for Kamensky if published now? What is gained and lost by publication?

Christopher, always in tight control of his emotions, also spends time in Rome with his stunning wife, Cathy. She is the bored and spoiled child of wealthy Americans. She is unfaithful to Christopher and makes sure he knows it. The story is uncommon in a thriller or mystery in the lead character accepting an unfaithful partner.

McCarry has a powerful description of secrets and the effect upon their relationship:

“I wish I had another life, the way you do, Paul,” she said. “Maybe I could stay inside it, as cold as you, and learn the secret you told me when I told you about Franco.

“The secret?”

“Of how to love, and feel nothing.”

Christopher sets out to determine who was responsible for Bulow’s death. It is a difficult search. He moves around Europe seeking out information. Christopher must dig deeply into the major conflicts that have defined Europe during the 20th Century. The answer is deep in the shadows of the world of espionage during the height of the Cold War.

It was an interesting book but the story did not catch me. I do want to read another to see if I feel differently. It has somewhat of a Le Carre feel to the story. McCarry is uncompromising in his portrayal of international intrigue. (Apr. 26/12)


  1. Bill - A thoughtful and well-written review, for which thanks. It's interesting how a story with all of the elements (and this one seems to have some interesting ones) may not "grab" us. I'm interested in the character of Rothschild; he seems to have a fascinating history. I'll bet his character added to the story...

  2. Margot: Thanks for the comment. I wonder if I built up my expectations too highly for the book. When a series becomes widely heralded I have to remind myself to let the books speak for themselves.

  3. It sounds an interesting book, Bill, even though it wasn't as enjoyable for you as it might have been. The comparison with John Le Carre seems apt - and on a good day, Le Carre is pretty unbeatable. It is interesting, though, that the plot of the lost/only ms is still quite a common one in crime fiction, even in this electronic age. I'm reminded of The Ghost Writer by Robert Harris, featuring an ex-prime minister said to be based on Tony Blair - the author was a friend of Blair's but fell out with him, apparently. I have not read the book as I am not a fan of Harris, but Prof Petrona and my elder daughter both enjoyed it. It was made into a film, The Ghost, which I have seen - starring Pierce Brosnan as the ex-PM, the superb Olvia Williams as his wife, and Ewan McGregor as the titular Ghost (Writer). (I think they have now retitled the book to be the same as the film). I am told that the twist at the end of the book is different from that in the film, so you can take your pick if either appeals to you!

  4. Maxine: Thanks for the comment. In Secret Lovers the manuscript is not lost but it is the only copy. Your comments on Robert Harris reminded me that he wrote a non-fiction book I found very interesting on the fake Hitler diaries. Thinking about that hoax made me realized that in Secret Lovers there was no scientific examination of the manuscript. Rothchild confirmed it was in the handwriting of the author and was written in his style. It was actually authenticated rather casually which brought mind back to the Hitler diaries which were intially found real mainly because the German magazine wanted them to be real.

  5. Not necessarily Solzhenitsin; several writers had books smuggled from the U.S.S.R. Vasily Grossman and Boris Pasternak are obvious examples.

    'It is interesting, though, that the plot of the lost/only ms is still quite a common one in crime fiction, even in this electronic age.'
    Reality too, Joseph Heller's daughter tells of how she had to go to his agent with the final draft of his novel and if he had a deart attack or was run over she had to save the book.

  6. Whoops!

    Joseph Heller's daughter tells of how she had to go with him to his agent with the final draft of his novel and if he had a deart attack or was run over she had to save the book.

  7. Anonymous: Thanks for the comment and additional information on saving the book.

  8. Aha! One of the targets of our ol' word thief Quentin Whatshisname. (Already forgotten. HA!) I saw a copy of McCrary book in a thrift store and wanted to buy it and sample his work to see what was so "stealable." But I passed on it. A few weeks later the book was gone. Ugh. Luckily, there is the library if I want to try McCrary.

    I like the concept of this plot. I may try this one instead of the one everyone raves about -- THE TEARS OF AUTUMN which was the book I found but someone else bought.

  9. John: Thanks for the comment. I got this book in Minneapolis in the back room at Once Upon a Crime bookstore. They had 8-10 McCarry books. It was hard to limit myself to one. I will be interested in reading your review when you find a McCarry book.