Monday, March 27, 2017

Not quite over the hill

As a younger man, my idea of a great spy novel was Robert Littell's The Amateur (1981) or James Grady's Six Days of the Condor (1974), tales about young men, inexperienced in the ways of espionage agents, who get the best of veterans. Now, an "old boy" myself, I am nuts about Old Boys (2004), written by Charles McCarry when he was about the same age I am now. His novel is about veteran CIA agents who should be retired but instead team up to find an old friend (and his mother) and prevent a nuclear terrorist attack on U.S. cities.

So maybe my taste in espionage thrillers is a reflection of my stage of life, why I would rather watch movies starring Robert Redford, Tom Hanks, Morgan Freeman or Harrison Ford than ones starring any younger actor you might name. Or maybe all three are terrific novels. When I reread Six Days of the Condor recently, I enjoyed it just as much as I did back in the Seventies.

McCarry has been writing Paul Christopher novels since the Seventies (and I loved The Tears of Autumn and The Secret Lovers, too). In Old  Boys, Christopher is in his seventies when he learns that his mother, who disappeared during World War II, may still be alive.  And so he disappears, too. When ashes purported to be his are sent back from China, his old friends don't believe it. Horace Hubbard, Christopher's cousin, takes the lead, and he and the other geezers travel back and forth across the globe tracking down the Christophers, while at the same time preventing  an even older terrorist from getting his dying wish, the destruction of America.

The novel includes a reference to The Over the Hill Gang. This story is similar to that old movie, but without the laughs. These Old Boys manage to stay a step ahead of much younger men, who keep trying to discourage them and send them back to retirement homes. Of these younger agents, McCarry writes, "Little did they know that they had just been extricated from the mess they had gotten themselves into by a bunch of arthritic, pill-taking old men who last saw combat before these kids' fathers were born."

As an arthritic, pill-taking old man, I found that great fun.

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