For a couple of weeks I was satisfied with having read 5 pages of the book and entered an ill-informed but enthusiastic thumbs-up into this blog (see my last entry). After all, it was purchased to protect me from sitting on my hands for 20 minutes when I couldn't find a magazine, and deriving pleasure worth memorializing from a stub reading experience seemed like enough to ask. I felt obliged to the author, though, for answering my basic need for amusement with unexpected flair so I went ahead and finished the book. The title is The Eye of the Needle and if it isn't it should be considered a spy thriller classic. The London postal worker I took for the hero was in fact the villain, ruthless, brilliant, the legendary Needle. The characters are not short-changed cliches the way they often are in genre fiction; they feel real, even the minor characters. Many of them have bit parts to play in this battle within a battle, and have little knowledge of the significance of their contributions. The novel's heroes are not so different from their fellow citizens. Certainly they can't claim to be smarter or stronger than the villain. They're just logical and dogged, admirable Brits, illustrative of the Churchillian virtue of never giving up.
The problem with suspense novels is they can't keep the mystery mysterious straight through to the end. The flip side of relying on mystery is that once you see how things are winding up, enjoyment weakens and you finish for the sake of finishing, if you finish at all. The Eye of the Needle keeps you curious about 99% through it, so it's in the Hall of Fame. It doesn't transcend the category, like, say, Raymond Chandler or James Ellroy, but it is masterful and memorable. Speaking of Ellroy I cracked the Cool 6,000 or whatever his latest is called and it's stylized beyond comprehension. I'm a big fan. Maybe I'll try it again.
1 day ago