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Christopher's Ghosts: A Paul Christopher Novelby Charles McCarry
Synopses & Reviews
With Christopher's Ghosts, a novel whose cinematic scope and penetrating depth transcend the bounds of even the greats works in its genre, Charles McCarry has surpassed his own matchless reputation as an espionage novelist. The grand tale begins in Europe in the late thirties, where a young Christopher and his family are struggling against the rise of Nazi totalitarianism in Berlin, even as he wrestles with a doomed love affair and bears witness to an unspeakable atrocity committed by a remorseless S.S. officer. The action spans oceans and time to the height of the Cold War in Europe, when the S.S. man emerges out of the ruins of postwar Germany to destroy the last living witness to his crime. It's a case of tiger chasing tiger as Christopher is pursued by the only man alive who can match his tradecraft or his instincts. As he edges toward the final confrontation with this mortal enemy, Christopher is forced to operate in the one theater he had thought he had mastered — his own past.
With ferocious suspense, masterful pacing, and a penetrating insight into the blood-soaked spectacle of twentieth century Europe, Charles McCarry delivers a haunting parable of a man confronted with the ghosts of an entire generation's brutal history.
"Veteran McCarry (The Tears of Autumn) remains a compelling storyteller, as shown in his latest spy thriller, which chronicles the early career of his series hero, Paul Christopher. In 1939 Berlin, 16-year-old Paul struggles, with his American novelist father and German aristocrat mother, against the Nazi rulers of Germany. The Christophers are refined intellectuals and known to be sympathetic to the persecuted Jews. A sadistic SS officer, Major Stutzer, takes pleasure in harassing Paul, who has fallen into an impassioned but forbidden love affair with a Jewish doctor's daughter. As war breaks out, Paul barely escapes, while his lover meets a horrible fate at Stutzer's hands. Flash forward to 1959: Paul, now one of the CIA's top operatives, undertakes a clandestine operation in East Berlin, where the Soviets have recruited a certain ex-Nazi officer to train their Arab allies. Can Paul finally face his old nemesis and put the ghosts of the past to rest? The book speeds toward a satisfying, inevitable conclusion." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Charles McCarry's new Paul Christopher novel is divided into two parts. The first section is set in 1939, when Christopher is 16 and living in Hitler's Berlin with his father, the American writer Hubbard Christopher, and mother Lori, a baroness from an ancient Prussian family. The elder Christophers have outraged the Nazi regime by helping smuggle Jews out of the country. The Christophers... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) know that it is almost impossible for them to escape Germany and that the Gestapo, at any moment, might imprison, torture or kill them. The only reason they remain free is that Reinhard Heydrich, the all-powerful head of the secret police, is obsessed with Lori and is using the fate of her husband and son to pressure her into an affair. Paul, meanwhile, is trying to live a normal life — and then he goes and falls in love. She is also 16, dark-haired, beautiful and mature beyond her years. He calls her Rima, after a character in his favorite novel, W. H. Hudson's 'Green Mansions.' Rima is officially Jewish because one of her grandparents was Jewish, and her father, a noted surgeon, has been forbidden to practice medicine except on Jews. First love is often painful, in literature and life, but rarely more than here, when the lovers, as well as their parents, fear the Nazis' sudden wrath. The evil of Nazism is embodied by a psychopathic SS officer, Franz Strutzer, who harasses Paul and, when Rima is taken into custody, humiliates her and threatens to have her father sent to Dachau. Many scenes in which the Nazis torment these decent people are exceedingly painful to read, and we suspect that things will not end well. We know that Paul survives (having read previous novels about his career in the CIA), but we agonize until the final scene about the fate of his parents and his lover. The novel's second section moves ahead to 1959, when Christopher, by then a legendary agent, locates Strutzer and sets out to have his revenge on the Nazi, now reborn as a spymaster for the communist regime in East Germany. Here, too, McCarry creates maximum suspense — not only as to whether Christopher, working with Israeli Nazi-hunters, can capture the resourceful Strutzer, but also as to what punishment he will inflict on this monster who tormented him and those he loved. 'Christopher's Ghosts,' although not the equal of 'The Tears of Autumn,' is certainly one of the better Christopher novels. Three years ago, 'Old Boys' was a mostly lighthearted romp in which some retired CIA agents banded together to free the aging Christopher from a distant prison. McCarry is back in form here, and by pitting the Christopher family against the Nazis, he is deadly serious. The story is rich in suspense, colorful characters, sudden surprises and detail. His prose, as always, is elegance itself. Still, a nagging concern must be noted. Someone said that J.D. Salinger loved his fictional Glass family more than God loved them. The same can be said about McCarry and his idealized Christopher clan. Lori 'descended from ancestors who had fought and dined with Charlemagne during the First Reich.' Her Nazi admirer calls her 'the most perfect Aryan female he had ever seen.' Teenaged Paul, with his 'dark blond hair,' is himself 'the picture of young Aryan manhood, as imagined by the (Nazi) party's poster artists.' Paul's father is a WASP prince, scion of the Hubbard and Christopher families, whose men have fought for America in five wars; he is a scholar, an idealist and in time a hero. We are told of Paul: 'Even as an infant he had been well mannered.' When Paul was 12, his great-uncle Paulus, a celebrated Prussian warrior, took the boy on his first boar hunt and afterward, 'smeared Paul's cheek with the blood of his first kill.' In this book, at 16, the boy risks death at the hands of the Nazis because honor requires it. In one scene, Paul and his parents and their friend O.G., an American diplomat, dine at one of Berlin's finest restaurants. The diplomat orders two bottles of wine and insists that the boy — who, as far as we know, doesn't drink — taste them: ''What's the verdict?' O.G. asked. ''I don't like Gewurtztraminer,' Paul said. ''Why ever not?' ''It tastes the way dried rose petals smell. But the red wine is delicious.' ''Good palate,' O.G. said. 'Nuits Saint-Georges 1929.'' Perhaps it's my surly populism emerging once again, but all this we-happy-few preening becomes tiresome. And yet it's basic to McCarry's concept. Recent fiction has elevated the antihero, grubby fellows such as John le Carre's George Smiley and Michael Connelly's Harry Bosch. Christopher is a throwback, a hero out of Arthurian legend, handsome, brave and incorruptible, the finest flower of Western civilization in the mid-20th century. McCarry's idealization of Christopher can be annoying, but it's the price we pay for the writer's silken prose and his insights into the world of espionage. If you enjoy spy fiction, or simply fine writing, try 'Christopher's Ghosts.' Elitism aside, it's an impressive performance by a novelist nearing 77." Reviewed by Kevin Allman, a frequent mystery reviewerJames A. Miller, who is chairman of the American studies department at George Washington University.Carolyn See, who can be reached at www.carolynsee.comPatrick Anderson, whose e-mail address is mondaythrillers(at symbol)aol.com, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"McCarry takes the story of his recurring master spy Paul Christopher back to its wildly romantic beginning....Former spook McCarry remains at the top of his game." Kirkus Reviews
"[A] high-caliber literary thriller with tension so thick and characters so twisted that you might consider reading it with a gun under your pillow....Many critics believe that Charles McCarry is the finest espionage writer working today. Count me in." San Antonio Express-News
"The book has much to recommend it: the prose is elegantly literate, the plot unfolds clearly, the characters are drawn in satisfying detail, the transitions are graceful, the sense of place and time is strong, and the 'tradecraft' is as authentic as circumstances permit..." Library Journal
"Unlike some of his counterparts who tend to write two-dimensional women, McCarry has created a full-blooded, devastating portrait of a doomed woman who has nowhere to turn. McCarry is also good at conveying the lazy, privileged insouciance of a certain breed of American." Los Angeles Times
With ferocious suspense, masterful pacing, and a penetrating insight into the blood-soaked spectacle of 20th century Europe, McCarry delivers a haunting parable of a man confronted with the ghosts of an entire generation's brutal history.
About the Author
Charles McCarry established an international reputation as a novelist in 1975. He is the former Editor at Large of National Geographic. During the 1950s and 1960s, McCarry served for a decade under deep cover as a CIA operations officer in Europe, Africa, and Asia.
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