Monday, February 25, 2008

Live and let die

In the Times, Michael Smith on the Bondian license to kill:
In fact, a surprising amount of the Bond story was true. The first “C”, as the head of MI6 is known, was Mansfield Smith-Cumming who – like Bond – was a Royal Navy commander when he started his new career. Cumming, whose name was shortened to C to protect his identity, was a particularly tough bird. Trapped by his car after it ran into a tree in wartime France, he hacked off his leg with a penknife in an attempt to save his dying son.

Compton Mackenzie, a secret service officer during the first world war, described how Cumming gave him the swordstick he had taken with him on spying expeditions to Germany before the war. “That’s when this business was really amusing,” Cumming told him. “After the war is over, we’ll do some amusing secret service work together. It’s capital sport.”
And along similar lines, I read a most delightful novel this weekend while laid low with a bronchial ailment (still fairly under the weather, I'm afraid): Charles Stross's The Atrocity Archives. Absolutely delightful! Len Deighton-H. P. Lovecraft mashup, with rather entrancing mathematical and computational asides--pretty much the perfect light reading, my highest compliment for any book...

(I reread The Ipcress File in the relatively recent past as part of some vague novelistic investigative project, thinking I suppose about models for my current ones, and I must say that I found it absolutely incomprehensible! Much more stylized and strange than I remembered it having been at the time I first read it as a teenager. I have never been a great John Le Carre fan--his best books are quite good, but I find his writing especially more recently has a pompous blowhard self-consciously literary quality that I can't abide... Deighton has a sort of hipster cred that Le Carre in any case lacks.)

1 comment:

  1. Fun post. I too think Le Carre is well past his prime, the peak being Tinker Tailor and The Honorable Schoolboy, in my opinion. Deighton... well, his interests were simply too broad for him to have dug all that deep of a niche in the literary intelligence world. His military novels were much stronger.