The Maestro

Title:                      The Maestro

Author:                John Gardner

Gardner, John (1993). The Maestro. New York: Otto Penzler Books

LCCN:    93019364

PR6057.A63 M3 1993


Date Updated:  June 26, 2015

This is ostensibly a novel about espionage, and it delivers in that department. It has, however, a number of qualities that make it interesting to readers who may not normally read spy thrillers. The main character is the greatest living conductor – supposedly on a par with Toscanini. The story of how he achieved prominence raises a number of questions that are interesting. I did not much like the book The main character, Big Herbie Kruger was just not interesting to me. The back story of his relationship with a coworker didn’t ring true to me. The foisting away of Maestro Passau seems counter to any experience I have had. I waded through the book but did not enjoy it all. The only thing that kept me reading it were the really interesting comments about music throughout the book.

Since we know that many great geniuses (Wagner is an example) led deplorable personal lives, the idea that this character would abandon and even kill some of the people who loved him and would live much of his life on the basis of lies and deceptions is quite credible. The method for telling the story is to have the Maestro deliver his autobiography as a full confession to a secret agent who must evaluate how he should be treated given that he betrayed his country as a spy for Hitler in World War II and also gave secrets to the Russians during the Cold War.

In the latter case, though, he believed he was actually serving his country. As the story progresses we get it from the point of view of the Maestro who is telling it, and of the agent who is listening to it. This causes us to see the same material from several different points of view, which makes it more challenging to determine our own judgment of the characters and events described. Thus we have a work of far greater complexity and literary interest than the normal spy novel.

As I indicated above, fortunately, for me, the author shows a decent knowledge of music and often refers to specific performances on recording, many of which are compared with the Maestro’s own fictitious recordings. This balance between history and fiction is interesting.

Force 10 from Navarone

Title:                  Force 10 from Navarone

Author:                 Alistair MacLean

MacLean, Alistair (1968). Force 10 from Navarone. Garden City, NY: Doubleday

LCCN:    68018084

PZ4.M1626 Fo3


Date Updated:  June 7, 2015

In Force 10 from Navarone, Alistair Maclean reunites us with the three main characters from The Guns of Navarone just after the completion of their desperate commando mission in the Greek Isles of WW II. However, there is no rest for the exhausted heroes, who are promptly launched on another mission by their boss in the British Special Operations Executive.

Reinforced by a group of young British Commandos, the new team is parachuted into Nazi-occupied Yugoslavia and right into the midst of a three way conflict between the Germans and several Yugoslav factions, the strongest being the Partisans, who are also engaged in a civil war. The team’s mission is to traverse the war-torn country, navigating between the warring factions, and destroy a huge dam that is the key to a planned German offensive.

The heroes from Navarone are world-weary, and wary, warriors compared to the young and enthusiastic commandos with whom they are teamed, but all will have to pull together if they are to survive a series of betrayals and mishaps. Maclean has provided a typically twisted plot that produces surprises and suspense to the very end. Maclean’s excellent and sardonic dialogue is matched with a good sense of place for war-torn Yugoslavia. This novel is infinitely more entertaining than the movie of the same title starring Harrison Ford and Robert Shaw, with which it shares not a whole lot more than a title. It’s one of Maclean’s better books, much better than his later near disasters.



AKA Jane

Title:                  AKA Jane

Author:                 Maureen Tan

Tan, Maureen (1997). AKA Jane. New York: Mysterious Press

LCCN:    97007018

PS3570.A785 A78 1997


Date Updated:  June 7, 2015

The protagonist is Jane Nichols, a counter-terrorist assigned to Britain’s MI5 team. For the past seven years, Jane dreams of avenging the death of her lover and partner, who died during a botched operation. Now Jane is retiring to pursue her obsession: getting even by killing Jim O’Neil, the IRA agent who destroyed her life seven years ago.

Jane moves to Savannah, Georgia where she becomes a mystery writer. She adopts one of her alter-egos, Max Murdoch, author of a detective series. Her seemingly simple project is quickly compounded by the fact that Jim O’Neil has just been voted the Georgia businessman of the year and is widely respected throughout the state.

Jane decides to look closely at her nemesis’ business. She partners with her former British MI5 mates, their American counterparts, and the Savannah chief of police, handsome Alex Callaghan, who raises once dead feelings of passion in the deadly assassin. Still Jane continues to investigate even as she knows that as she gets closer to the truth about her arch-enemy, she steps ever closer to death.

With Jane, Tan creates a strong heroine in a genre not known for them. AKA Jane introduces a very interesting new protagonist, who as she allegedly has come in from the cold, still uses the skills she has gained over the years. Jane will quickly gain a large fan appreciation. The story line is straight forward with very few twists and turns, but surprisingly that adds to the overall fun of an exciting spy-like thriller.