Saturday, June 25, 2011

Completed: The Unlikely Spy


I finally had a few hours this morning to finish off The Unlikely Spy. I literally just put it down so take these thoughts as very, very fresh!

The novel is set most in the early months of 1944 at the British and American forces were planning to invade France. In this spy novel, the action is all about keeping the Germans from discovering the secret behind Operation Mulberry (apparently, this was a real thing and not just made up for the book), which was the codename for a massive Allied construction project. The Allies were building huge, artificial ports that would allow their forces to land in France and every day the ports would be used to bring ashore thousands of pounds of supplies needed to fuel the invasion.

The hero of the novel Arthur Vicary, a former history professor who is recruited to work for MI-5. He is running spies and counterespionage for the British. It seems there is a threat to the security of Operation Mulberry and Vicary and his team desperately try to stop the German spies from discovering the invasion plans.

For some reason, this book didn't grab me and have me itching to read it. I think I was just distracted with other things. For example, I watched the entire first season of The Good Wife on DVD in the time I was reading this book. It was definitely slow for the first 250 pages. This is where all of the various characters are introduced and put into play. After that, the book really picked up. I don't know. I think everything just took too long. When I think about the actual plot of the novel, it just doesn't seem to require this many pages. The end of the novel is the German spies attempting to escape London and make it back to Germany. Their very long-and-drawn-out escape took over 150 pages. It actually went by really fast, it was interesting and engaging, and I like reading about all the machinations of the various spies, handlers, etc.

But...I guess when I think about it, my major problem seems to be that I knew what was going to happen all along. For a spy novel to *work*, it really does have to be suspenseful. You have to be constantly wondering "what's going to happen?" But because the whole plot of this book is about the run-up to D-Day, and whether or not the Germans will figure out the invasion plans, all of that mystery was already solved. I know damn-well that we surprised the Germans on D-Day and successfully landed at Normandy. I didn't feel any urgency while reading the book.

Finally, it's just creepy to read a book with Hitler, Himmler, and the rest of the Nazi regime as a characters. I don't know why, but that sort of bugged me.

Anyways, I'm glad I finished it, and certainly if someone who was already a fan of the genre requested a recommendation, I could say good things about The Unlikely Spy. I think my issues with it are so personal, and even then they didn't ruin the book for me.

Whew! I feel like I just got in under the wire with this one!

PS. We're halfway done! I just want to say at this point how happy I am that we are doing this. It's very satisfying to move these books off the TBR pile. Of course, the TBR pile keeps growing and growing...


  1. As I read your first two paragraphs re-capping the novel, I found myself leaning into the screen, getting really engrossed in the story. And then... your rating that it wasn't really a "grabber" was kind of a disappointment.

    But I totally understand what you mean -- a suspense novel has to be suspenseful to work. It's like a romance novel where there isn't a couple. Fail.

    As for the TBR pile -- soooo satisfying to be clearing this bookshelf here! Meanwhile, I had arranged them in size order, so the largest book is looming for December. I should probably do a swap out and plan to read that in September. a) December is always hectic and b) My *sabbatical* is in September, so I'll have 4 weeks off! YES!

  2. K,

    You definitely need to have your biggest book in September! I'm not sure which one I'm going to read next. I'm thinking I should tackle another long one now that I have this time on my hands.

    Here's another thing possibly happening in the fall---our reunion! Through some FB sleuthing, I've discovered that the buzz is that it will be Homecoming weekend. No one is exactly sure, but the best bet seems to be the weekend of October 14th. No official word yet, and everyone is too afraid to ask for fear of being asked to step in and do the planning. Hee!


  3. The protagonist's name was Alfred Vicary not Arthur.