Monday, July 24, 2006

Charles McCarry's Old Boys

I'm reading Charles McCarry's latest spy novel Old Boys now, and I'm really enjoying it. McCarry has been writing about American spies for three or four decades but his books have been out of print for a while until just recently, when Old Boys came out in 2004. It's now available as a Penguin trade paperback.

McCarry's Horace Hubbard is a charismatic old CIA agent whose modest narration belies his outrageous past (he spent time in prison for stealing an American presidential election), a touch of unsettling Orientalism, and the ruthlessness one expects from a man who carries out assassination orders. Hubbard is young and almost naive next to his missing older cousin, the legendary spy Paul Christopher -- the protagonist of many previous novels.

The plot is this: Paul Christopher disappears. The Chinese government returns his ashes with their condolences but little explanation, only Christopher's cousin Hubbard doesn't buy it. Following the elder spy's "if anything ever happens to me" instructions, Hubbard discovers that the dastardly Ibn Awad, a man who Hubbard thought he'd had killed ten years ago is alive. Moreover, Awad is after a New Testament-era manuscript that could "be interpreted as evidence that Jesus Christ was an unwitting asset of Roman intelligence," which Awad could use to attack Christ's divinity. And, Christopher's mother, long thought dead after she went missing in WWII, may be alive (at 94), and in possession of the offending manuscript. After the funeral, Hubbard rounds up some old boys to track down Christopher, his mother, Awad, and the Jesus document.

If that sounds like a neo-con's dream, you're right, and I have the Weekly Standard review to prove it. P.J. O'Rourke likes it because unlike those damned morally ambiguous LeCarré novels "McCarry's plots turn on the search for truth. The author and his heroes aren't in doubt about what the truth is: Good is good, and bad is bad." I like it because -- neocons be damned -- it's a great spy novel.

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