Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Charles McCarry's THE BETTER ANGELS in the Toronto Star

Charles McCarry's 1979 thriller, The Better Angels, is reviewed in the Toronto Star: "In the course of Charles McCarry's recently released thriller, The Better Angels, Arab terrorists lay plans to crash domestic passenger planes into Western targets. Ah, the unwary reader concludes, McCarry is borrowing from the most terrible episode in early 21st century American history. No, no, the more informed reader realizes, McCarry isn't repeating history. In a remarkable feat of prescience, his book actually anticipates future events. McCarry wrote and published The Better Angels in 1979. Now, in a worthy venture, the American publisher Overlook has launched a program of reissuing McCarry's past novels in new hardcover copies. The series begins with The Better Angels, which happens to be a timely choice for more reasons than McCarry's foreshadowing of 9/11. This kind of extravagant stuff sounds like leftovers from a lame Tom Clancy novel, but in McCarry's sophisticated hands, the material becomes engrossing and convincing. McCarry's own background is in diplomacy and espionage. A man now in his 80s, he began his political life in the Eisenhower administration and later worked as a CIA undercover operative for nine years. He says his two writing influences are Somerset Maugham and Richard Condon. His books reflect the civilized treachery of Maugham's spy novels and the subversive imagination of Condon's thrillers. The talent for predicting is exclusively McCarry's own. Apart from getting 9/11 right, he seems to have been one of the earliest thriller writers to work computers into his plot. As an instrument in Horace Hubbard's machinations, his number one assistant gets "computers talking to one another." It's true that only a minute group of people in the entire world are aware of computers in The Better Angels, but it seems remarkable that, as early as 1979, McCarry even considered a computer as an essential plot device. It seems certain that McCarry's imagination, freewheeling and abundant as it was in 1979, would never have conceived of a Sarah Palin appearing as any party's vice-presidential candidate." - Jack Batten

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