Top positive review
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Bewildering, murky, and endlessly fascinating
on 21 December 2013
Review of the Kindle version
Can this book be described as interesting? Definitely! "Truth is stranger than fiction" may be a cliche but it is a wholly attributable truism here. Its pages unleash a tsunami of plots, sub-plots, counter-plots, their myriads of characters replete with far from "normal" personalities - from the cricket-bat straight to the mind-boggling treacherous, slyly devious, and outlandishly dodgy.
That human beings can indulge in wheeling and dealing, double and triple crossing, cunning, trickery, and legerdemain - either as a lifelong habit or as a passing whim - at times beggars belief. For all their stunning subterfuge and chicanery, these individuals are often painted as being "quite ordinary" - which perhaps challenges the mental model of us lesser mortals then.
Putting the content together and making sense of it, however, at times resembles an exercise in lesser tradecraft - piecing together the loose fragments of story, anecdote, "official" versions, fairy tales, and apocrypha into a seamless picture becomes an exercise in patience, purpose, and sheer pertinacity.
Well, the one feature missing from the narrative is any hint or inkling of chapter structure. Each chapter is as dimly-lit as the post-war Vienna where the reader enters Mr Corera's murky world. There are no route maps, no landmarks, no signposts, and, unlike Vienna, definitely no lampposts. The terrain is completely featureless, devoid of focal point. The author has created an apparently never-ending script leading the reader from adventure to misadventure, with forays off right and off left into calamity and the occasional triumph.
In each chapter, you start at the beginning and work through a seemingly limitless series of tales. Like the spies in the text, you hope to find some connecting bridges (or at least doors) from one scenario to the next. If you stop to take stock (or come up for air) - you will be forced to retrace some of your steps to remind you how you arrived at your current unknown location.
Perhaps this is Mr Corera's intention - if it is difficult for a spy to make sense of a narrative then likewise for the humble reader. Perhaps spies are trained (well sometimes) to deal with tedium - unfortunately "average reader" is not. A few headings and sub-headings would not go amiss - especially in Chapter Ten.
Ah! Chapter Ten! Therein lies a tale! If ever you thought that politicians were a bunch of unprincipled, unethical, self-promoting, aggrandising thrill-seekers - the final chapter will remove any doubt. If ever you had doubts about going to war in Iraq or into just one of the many wars in Afghanistan, your unease and lack of certainty will be removed.
There is a quote in an earlier chapter that "...absolute morality, absolute ethics just does not exist in affairs of the state". As ordinary citizens, perhaps this is our mistake when judging politicians. However it is a very uncomfortable thought that "one law for them and one law for us" not only exists but is actively pursued as a matter of policy.
It's a cracking book. But, editors, please put in a few indicators and and switch on the lights from time to time!