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Brunch: A History – Farha Ternikar

You don’t eat brunch. You do brunch.

I took a break from reading War and Peace to breeze through Ternikar’s slim history of Brunch from its origins in Great Britain in the late 1800s to its global phenomenon.

Although it began in Great Britain, Ternikar shows that Brunch took root in the United States. One vector, epitomized by french toast, entered through New Orleans, while another, with Eggs Benedict, came through New York. In both cases, brunch began as am meal enjoyed only by the elite because it required leisure time that few could afford. From these beginnings, though, brunch became a middle class and even working class meal, one that still went hand-in-hand with relaxation, but also that offered freedom for women because it combined two meals into one, thereby limiting the number of dishes that were used and freeing time for families. The combination of leisure and pomp associated brunch with church and weddings, as a time for people to mingle and eat, and culture manuals described how it was the perfect opportunity for single women to socialize with married friends. And, of course, day drinking features prominently.

Brunch consists of five short chapters: history, cultural importance, brunch at home, away from home, and in popular culture. Ternikar draws extensively on and quotes think pieces, culture manuals and magazines that both support and oppose the phenomenon, which frequently makes it a lively read. Themes such as luxury, relaxation, female activity, all appear clearly in these chapters. I enjoyed reading Brunch, but had some questions about the choices in putting the book together. For instance, I found the black and white images that are drawn from internet sources rather than, say, from field research to take away from overall product. I also found that the author did well to show the breadth of brunch in popular culture and around the world, but it also makes the book repetitious.

Martial Prowess

I’ve been interested in collective reputations for martial prowess for a long time. I even once wrote a misguided blog post on the topic that misrepresented Sparta and Spartans in a way that is uniquely suited to an overly-exuberant, young, American man. My opinions on that particular topic have come a long way since then, but the general interest in the concept remains. This sort of thinking has been long ingrained through years of table top gaming and reading hierarchically-minded science fiction and fantasy that frequently has an underpinning of principles that mirror scientific racism, but that is perhaps a topic for another post. What I find interesting from a historical perspective is not why the groups were militarily successful (or even if they were), but how, when and why these reputations for being a “martial race” develop.

My current fun read is an English translation of Tolstoy’s War and Peace, which is set during the Napoleonic Wars. I have completed book one, which concludes with the Battle of Austerlitz in 1805. At the battle, Napoleon’s army convincingly destroyed the joint armies of Austria and Russia.

Thus far I have appreciated the timelessness of Tolstoy’s battle descriptions. I will write up longer thoughts when I finish the novel, but a passing comment in the first book stood out. At a party where a number of Russian officers discuss the Napoleon’s progress, one of them flippantly dismisses the French victories on the grounds that they were only fighting against Germans. On the one hand, this is part of the characterization of a young man full of bluster, but, on the other, it speaks to a broader stereotype of Germans as militarily inept that, even in the years that Tolstoy wrote War and Peace, Otto von Bismark (among others) swept away.

Although this instance in War and Peace is meant to downplay French successes, but the story goes on to demonstrate that not only are the Germans unable to stop Napoleon, but he also defeats the Russian army. The juxtaposition is stark on all these points. The French reputation against the German, and the way in which both of the reputations flipped—-so much so that a Google search for “French Military Victories” used to autocorrect to “did you mean French Military Defeats” and a website that tried to show that every French military victory was attributable to people who were not actually French. But therein lies the rub: these are reputations and reputations change based on a host of factors that are only loosely connected to reality.

Rabbits and Boa Constrictors – Fazil Iskander

….a stubby boa suddenly interrupted the Great Python. This particular boa was known for his unceasing inquisitiveness, which had already led him to swallow bananas instead of rabbits, and he had even had the audacity to convince others that they were rather tasty. Fortunately, none of the other boas followed this example of free thinking. Nevertheless, the Great Python found unpleasant, almost a morally depraved freak.

In the plains and forests of Africa there are all manner of creatures, including monkeys, rabbits, boa constrictors, and the natives. They all inhabit roughly the same territory, but each lives in its own society. The kingdom of the Boa Constrictors is ruled by The Great Python, Tsar of the Boas, and famed for his prowess in hunts, with his lair decorated with the trophies that include the Native in the Prime of his Life. The other boas respect and fear their ruler and prepare food for him, usually by hypnotizing their favorite prey, rabbits. On the other end of the spectrum, the rabbits live in a society where the king preserves his position through fear of the boas and hope of the delicious cauliflower being developed with the natives in secret fields. Even the royal banner is a head of cauliflower. The king hosts orgies in his palace most nights and his rewards his immediate circle lavishly from the royal coffers, but most of the population is kept in check through fear of the boas, a fear that is managed by mathematical proofs that if the rabbits multiply then the odds diminish that any one rabbit will be eaten by the boas.

The relationship between the boas and the rabbits, while not peaceful, is stable and to the satisfaction of both rulers, but both fear the same disruption: that the rabbits will no longer accept their position in this relationship. It is for this reason that the Great Python has decreed that the greatest crime a boa can commit is to allow a rabbit go once swallowed. Squinter, a one-eyed boa, knows this punishment all too well, and when detailing it to a younger colleague, he is overheard by Ponderer, a rabbit who is better at thinking about the world than he is at farming. Ponderer determines that boa hypnosis is nothing more than rabbits being afraid and tells this to the community. Although he is betrayed by the king, his mantle is taken up by Yearner and the rabbit kingdom is thrown into disarray. The normal rabbits learn that they do not need the king to protect them from the boas and it is become increasingly apparent that the cauliflower is not forthcoming. Both societies adapt, but eventually both sides conclude that things were better in the old days.

Rabbits and Boa Constrictors, first published in 1989 is an allegory about political societies, albeit without overt reference to specific countries or economic systems. Both systems present in the book use fear and promises of luxury to keep the populations from thinking about how much better their lives could be. Manipulation is the overriding theme, but the stratifications and evils of manipulation are more pronounced in the rabbit kingdom. The inner circle indulge in food and pleasures of the flesh, while he exploits the ambitions of rabbits to keep others in check and to ensure that troublemakers are taken care of. At the same time, the king has constructed an elaborate web of guards and guards of the guards that he feels he must micromanage to keep his position. Potential voices of opposition receive literal carrots to keep quiet and everyone else gets promises of cauliflower, and a pseudo-scientific calculations about the boas to keep And yet, the precautions are all for naught.

The core moral of Rabbits and Boa Constrictors would seem to be to not allow societies strictures and superstitions to keep one from being free thinking. Yet both societies go into something of a decline as a result of free thought, and food becomes scarce. While this might indicate that free thinking also entails some measure of danger, in both cases it is not the free thought itself, but the lengths taken by the state to resist that thought that brings about the decline. Iskander is also not one for giving a single clear message in this book, but prefers to offer more questions and issues than answers. Rabbits and Boa Constrictors was a quick and enjoyable read that gives plenty to think on.

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Next up I decided to challenge myself (again) and jumped into War and Peace. I am about 10% in and not yet regretting the decision entirely, but we will see when I get to read something else, particularly given that the new semester is about to start.

The Plague – Albert Camus

They went on doing business, arranged journeys, and formed views. How should they have given a thought to anything like plague, which rules out any future, cancels journeys, silences the exchange of views. They fancied themselves free, and no one will ever be free so long as there are pestilences.

Looking at them, you had an impression that for the first time in their lives they were becoming, as some would say, weather-conscious. A burst of sunshine was enough to make them seem delighted with the world, while rainy days gave a dark cast to their faces and their mood. A few weeks before, they had been free of this absurd subservience to the weather, because they had not to face life alone; the person they were living with held, to some extent, the foreground of their little world. But from now on it was different; they seemed at the mercy of the sky’s caprices—-in other words, suffered and hoped irrationally.

No longer were there individual destinies; only a collective destiny, made of plague and the emotions shared by all.

Albert Camus is an author whose work I have been making my way through starting about three years ago when I read his treatise The Rebel. The Plague is now added to a list that also includes The Stranger and the short story collection The Stranger and the Kingdom.

Oran is a vibrant community until an outbreak of bubonic plague throws the town into disarray, first as people do not understand why their loved ones are dying and then when the city is quarantined to prevent the epidemic from spreading. The Plague addresses how a community confronts such an outbreak, both in the immediate form of an agonizing death and the accompanying psychic trauma. Although it is a story about the community at large, it mostly follows the efforts of the narrator, Doctor Rieux and his band of friends, including the journalist Raymond Rembert and the clerk Joseph Grand, in their efforts to combat the plague and ease human suffering when all else fails. Rembert, a French journalist trapped in the quarantined city, is particularly interesting in this regard, since he is desperate to get back to his wife.

I like this review about the continuing importance of The Plague, for what it says about physical and psychic epidemics in the modern world, but am not prepared to offer a detailed analysis of the book myself. I found it hard to appreciate The Plague as a novel, feeling largely detached from the events as though it was a philosophical allegory instead of a story. This is not without good reason. The Plague is about physical suffering, but it is also an allegory about fascism. Another way of saying this is that I liked The Plague as philosophy, but not as a novel, for which it alternated between scenes of brilliant poignancy and ones that just got in the way. (As a novel, I much preferred The Stranger.) That said, I’m not certain that The Plague would work as philosophy, but the mixture just didn’t quite work for me.

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Next up, I am nearly finished with Fazil Iskander’s Rabbits and Boa Constrictors, a tale about two competing social systems, with some intrepid inhabitants of both being frustrated with what their peers regard as an ideal society.

Sometimes I hate peer-review

Publishing academic articles sometimes feels to me like a painful roast, where you polish and polish and polish before sending it into the ether and being told some weeks or months later all the ways in which your work sucks. I am being hyperbolic.

Publishing peer-reviewed articles is difficult. According to some more senior academics, it is one of the hardest jobs they have to do. At my current place in this labyrinth, I certainly agree with the assessment. Not only are the standards exacting and the reviewers charged with being tough, and the work is unpaid, yet necessary to even have the hope of achieving the academic-unicorn, a tenure-track professorship. Getting a positive review caused me to be overwhelmed not with joy, but relief; a rejection letter is a visceral gut-punch.

I have gotten two such rejections this summer, the uncovering the most recent this afternoon while clearing out my inbox after coming back from a trip. Both sets of reviewer comments have been harsh, but the process has been straightforward, prompt, and professional. I do not feel that the feedback is misguided other than perhaps one point where I disagree with the comments, but can probably articulate the point. In other words, I have no peer-review horror stories. I have only my own emotions.

Hate is a strong word, but most simply and directly encapsulates the pain, frustration, exhaustion and embarrassment that comes along with this sort of rejection letter. And then the niggling specter of doubt creeps in about my ability to really do this sort of work. Adding to this frustration is that both submissions this summer were parts of my dissertation. I am taking a small victory in that neither piece was rejected out of hand, but there is still the sting of having spent so much time on these submissions.

The addendum to this post is that I also have a deep appreciation for peer review and my interactions with the system this summer have been overwhelmingly helpful for where I can take these projects. The feedback has been harsh and the submissions found lacking for the journals I submitted to, but most readers have offered genuinely helpful, positive feedback, pointing out things in my submissions that would leave me embarrassed (or worse) if they were to appear in print.

I am despondent when I get this news. Certainly it doesn’t help my anxiety or my frustration, but, mostly, it just leaves me exhausted. The letter, as always, has me questioning what motivates me to put myself through the wringer yet again because I know that I will. It isn’t the euphoric high of an acceptance, because that leaves me nearly as tired. It isn’t just an academic career because I could do everything else right and never get the whiff of one of those. At the end of the day I am going to put myself out there again because I have something I want to say.

Marcovaldo or the seasons in the city – Italo Calvino

In an unnamed north Italian city there is an unskilled worker named Marcovaldo with his wife Domitilla and many children. In the early 1950s the economy is particularly bad and Marcovaldo’s job at Sbav and co barely puts food on the table. But Marcovaldo is irrepressible, indulging in flights of fancy all the while looking for the natural world. By the 1960s the economy seems to be doing well, but Marcovaldo’s family still struggles and the newfound prosperity mostly succeeds in blotting out the simple things that he enjoys.

Marcovaldo is a series of twenty stories arranged in the cycles of seasons (Spring-Summer-Fall-Winter) that play out over a decade in the city. Other than being set in the same city and following the fantasies of Marcovaldo, a simple man who tries to help people, there is no overarching plot to this book. As such, Calvino relies on the strength of the individual stories, but I found them to be somewhat inconsistent. They are brilliant and poignant at their best, such as in “Mushrooms in the City” where Marcovaldo harvests mushrooms to eat and “Moon and GNAC” where modern advertising that features blinking lights obscures the moon. But others, such as “A journey with the cows,” where his son became a cowherd temporarily, the morals were resonant with the rest of the collection, but the story itself was somewhat lackluster.

There is an underlying economic narrative and an exploration of humans and their environment. The themes Calvino draws on are serious, but he spins them out with typical lightness and sense of whimsy. The sense of wonder is heightened because Marcovaldo is not corrupted by the gravity of the world, approaching everything with childlike wonder.

I enjoyed Marcovaldo and some of the individual vignettes were remarkable, but its very levity and lack of a strong plot meant that I didn’t revel in the story as much as I have with some of Calvino’s other books.

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Next up, I started reading Albert Camus’ The Plague this afternoon.

The Fall of Hyperion – Dan Simmons

“The core offered unity in unwitting subservience,” she said softly. “Safety in stagnation. Where are the revolutions in human thought and culture and action since the Hegira?”

“My God,” whispered Meina Gladstone…”I’m doing all of this on the strength of a dream.”

“Sometimes,” said General Morpugo, taking her hand, “dreams are all that separate us from the machines.”

When Hyperion leaves off, the Shrike Pilgrims are on their final approach to the Time Tombs. The Fall of Hyperion, however, begins light years away with the artist Joseph Severn being summoned to the presence of Meina Gladstone, the CEO of Mankind, ostensibly in order to draw official portraits; his real purpose is to advise the CEO about the pilgrims’ progress because he sees them in his dreams. The Time Tombs are opening, the Shrike is set loose, and the Ousters are approaching Hyperion, but the greatest threat to mankind an as-of-yet unforeseen catastrophe is descending on the hegemony. There are some irregularities caused by the Time Tombs, but, the entire story largely plays out over the course of a week.

At face value, The Fall of Hyperion has a more straightforward structure than its predecessor, but that is doing Simmons a disservice. Hyperion has a series of narrators, each telling their own story, while FoH has primarily one, Joseph Severn. (It is arguable that Severn, a genetic copy of the poet John Keats, is the narrator of the first novel, too, but that point is never addressed.) Severn tells his story in the first person, while the other sections of the story are in a cinematic third person that sprawls across the galaxy as the characters race to prevent total annihilation.

The Fall of Hyperion is not quite as tight as Hyperion, but is an immensely satisfactory conclusion to the this pair of novels (though I can’t vouch for how it fits with the pair of Endymion novels set in the same universe). That said, where the first was an absolute revelation of storytelling and world-building, FoH rushes ahead as one catastrophe after another tears threatens to destroy everything and all the characters are forced to fight for their lives. FoH continues to explore many of the issues that are raised in H, including human reliance on technology, the refusal to adapt to the environment, and sacrificing for greater good. There were times that it felt somewhat moralistic about all human failures, but this emerged more strongly because of its nature as a catastrophe story and did not necessarily detract.

I said in my post about Hyperion that I didn’t believe that the sequel was necessary to appreciate it, and that sentiment remains true. However, I do believe that the sequel lives up to the promises of the original, building on the issues and adding to them rather than falling flat. For anyone who appreciated the first, I unreservedly recommend the second; for anyone who hasn’t yet read the first, it is necessary before reading the second.

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Next up I am halfway through Italo Calvino’s novella Marcovaldo, a collection of short stories, each a fable of sorts following the title character’s ill-fated ambitions in a northern Italian city. After that I am torn on what to read. I had an impulse today to give War and Peace another shot or possibly to pick up Anna Karenina, but this time last year I got bogged down in an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to read Don Quixote and may decide keep on with novellas or short novels by reading Camus’ The Plague instead.

The Day of the Owl – Leonardo Sciascia

Sposito had a baby face, but the brothers Colasberna and their associates were in holy terror of his presence, the terror of a merciless inquisition, of the black seed of the written word. ‘White soil, black seed. Beware the man who sows it. he never forgets,’ says the proverb.

All right, then, no flights of fancy. But Sicily is all a realm of fantasy and what can anyone do there without imaginations?

Salvatore Colasberna is unusual, but his end is not. He is an honest contractor in Sicily and on the opening page of The Day of the Owl he is gunned down while boarding the morning bus. The same day, a local man named Nicolosi disappears. Tips begin to pour into the police station about both crimes, most of which suggest that one or both were crimes of passion, with almost no indication that the two might be connected. The detective on the case, Captain Bellodi, is an outsider from Parma and newly appointed to Sicily and suspects that there is something more sinister at work. Bellodi is particularly suspicious of the mafia, much to the chagrin of his local subordinates and influential Sicilians in Rome, all of whom insist that the criminal organization doesn’t exist—-that it is conspiracy dreamt up by the malicious outsiders.

The Day of the Owl is, at its heart, a police procedural that follows Bellodi’s meticulous investigation into the two murders. He rejects the premise that either crime is the result of passion, and begins tracking down leads that might reveal that the two murders are connected by the mafia. He manages to track down the two killers and connect the murders and finds enough evidence to arrest a head of the mafia, but the suspects reject his accusation that this shadowy organization is strangling Sicily. The island runs on family relationships and friendships and nothing more sinister, they say.

For all that civilians stonewall and higher-ups put pressure on Bellodi, the actual investigation is straightforward and goes off without a hitch. The plot builds up to a cordial, climactic exchange between the captain and the arrested mafia boss Don Mariano Areno, who plays innocent and mocks Bellodi for seeing an all-powerful organization running Sicily. Areno respects Bellodi, and their tet a tete develops into a debate about how Sicily ought to operate. Despite himself, Bellodi finds himself in love with the insular, intransigent, and backward-looking island that resists assimilation into the modern world.

This particular climax further indicates what sort of story The Day of the Owl is. Although saddled with the trappings of a detective novel and bearing some of the same pacing, Sciascia’s book is more of a portrait of an unnamed Sicilian town and the operation of the mafia, as seen through the eyes of an outsider. Sciascia himself was a native Sicilian and vocal critic of the mafia throughout his life, and the character of Bellodi seems to take on his role as someone who loves he island and the people, but hates the corruption that pervades its society.

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I am going to read another of Sciascia’s novels in the near future, but next up I am probably going to read Dan Simmon’s The Fall of Hyperion.

The Post-Office Girl – Stefan Zweig

And when at eight in the morning Christine sat down, she was tired–tired not from something achieved and accomplished, but tired in anticipation of everything ahead, the same faces, the same questions, the same chores, the same money.

“Yes, my friend, from down in the muck the world doesn’t look that delightful.”

Christine, the eponymous Post-Office Girl, is an Austrian civil servant in the years after World War One. Her brother died in the war, her father is dead, and her mother dying, and even her married sister’s family is struggling to make ends meet. Christine is fortunate that she has a job, one that is monotonous and regimented, but even allows for moments of stolen relaxation. It does not allow for a life outside of the job and Christine has never had a suitor in all her years, but she keeps her ambitions limited and can take pleasure in those stolen moments. Then her aunt, who left home and eventually married a wealthy Dutch merchant and now lives in America, inviting her to vacation at a resort in the Alps and she is swept into a world of money, luxury, and desire.

Christine arrives at the resort looking like a peasant girl, but mountain air, soft clothing, and attentions of men revitalize her and set her spinning in a world of her dreams. Her innocence of the world nevertheless awakens dormant fears and jealousies, and these forces conspire to eject her back to the drudgery of her job, painfully aware of every slight and every ache. She is somewhat saved when she meets Ferdinand, a bitter, frustrated, and injured war veteran, whose desire fulfills her and who can relate to being down in the muck of society. However, their relationship rubs dirt into her wounds since it reveals how far money corrupts every aspect of human interaction and she feels constant shame at their circumstances. Needing to take care of themselves before they can fix the world, Christine and Ferdinand concoct first one and then another plan to revolt against the society that beats them down.

The Post Office Girl is formally divided into two parts. The first details Christine’s awakening to the world of money. She starts with little, but quickly adapts to the wonders of nice clothing, good food, soft beds, and, importantly a freedom from want. More than that, though, the trip to the resort and the world of money awakens her interest in being desired. Money facilitates a range of human relationships, all of which she embraces. For Christine, money is a heady experience, but her appearance is refreshing to some people, while disturbing the social relationships already in place. For instance, after the initial delight in her niece wears off, Christine’s aunt becomes increasingly worried that her own modest background and questionable means of entry into society will be discovered, ultimately leading to cutting off her family once more. Similarly, Christine interrupts the courtship between a German engineer and a character known as the Mannheim girl, the latter of whom jealously observes this intruder, determining that after “ten or twenty gaucheries like that and it was clear she was poorly versed in the lore of the chic.” The first experience with capitalism does not itself change Christine’s personality, but the brief experience with money and then having it suddenly ripped away leaves her bitter and frustrated.

There are echoes of George Orwell and Joseph Roth in this critique of post-war Austria. (There is also some Kafka, but the bureaucracy does actually reply.) The times are particularly difficult for a host of people whose lives were broken, stolen, according to Ferdinand, by the war and the people are aware of these difficulties. But the major critique of post-war capitalism emerges first and foremost in the contrast between the mountainous land of the gods and the muck of the towns and cities where everyday people live.

I liked The Post-Office Girl a lot, though, admittedly, it falls into a sweet spot for my particular reading tastes and it was not without its problems. Christine is an effective narrator whose arc is easy to follow, but she is also something of an empty vessel reacting to desires who gets swept up in whatever situation she finds herself in. She is not a flapper, who are accounted by the novel as members of the wealthy, and there is a little bit of denigration of her as a woman, sometimes in the first person, sometimes in the context described by Zweig. Christine’s emotional roller-coaster contributes to the raw power of the novel and Zweig contributes canny observations about all of the interactions between people as they struggle through a world that does not care whether they live or die. The revolution is not going to be forthcoming and it seems that only the wealthy have the luxury to enjoy life or to play political games. There is something despicable about the behavior of some, though not all, of the wealthy people in their idyllic retreat, but there is also enough delight that leads Ferdinand to ask the most important of questions:

“I don’t mean ‘why not me instead of him’…Just ‘why not me too.’”

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Next up I am reading The Day of the Owl by Leonardo Sciascia, a murder mystery set in a small Sicilian town where the only honest architect in the region is gunned down in the street on the opening page.

Night Heron – Adam Brookes

Prisoner 5995, a.k.a. Peanut, escapes from a work camp somewhere in Western China after serving nearly twenty years of a sentence, eludes the manhunt and makes his way to Beijing. He finds the world has changed dramatically since his arrest and falls back on his training to evade notice while developing a plan that will punish those who he blames for his incarceration and allow him to get out China. Toward the former, he makes contact with Wen Jinghan, an engineer who had supplied him with state secrets in his former life as a spy, and with Philip Mangan, a reporter who works for the same newspaper that employed his former contact with British Intelligence. Bewildered, Mangan turns reaches out to contacts in the British government, who decide to use him as Peanut’s handler after Peanut supplies the cover page to a report detailing the state of the Chinese missile system.

The tension grows as Chinese are alerted to an intelligence leak and begin to close in on Mangan and his associates, including on his photograph and girlfriend, and the British services change the parameters of the mission. Peanut doesn’t particularly care about the secrets he is peddling and Mangan is more bewildered than dedicated, but both find themselves trapped in the space between agencies, neither of which cares about their wellbeing except to how it serves their impersonal ends.

I picked up Night Heron, Brookes’ debut novel, because of a recent interest in reading more spy/detective thrillers and it appeared on a list of best new books in the genre. There is good reason for this. Brookes, a longtime journalist in East Asia, gives enough detail about China and how it has changed in recent years, both in terms of the relationship between the citizens and the government and in terms of the physical space that there really is a particular setting. He also successfully builds suspense in this sprawling story by showing how many characters are working multiple angles, while Peanut is lost in a modern world, and Mangan is befuddled by the games within games. The lack of certainty does its job.

Brookes describes Night Heron as his “efforts to understand something of what goes on in the world of intelligence,” and this shows through. Mangan takes on the role of author and reader surrogate, trying to understand what is happening so that he can stay one step ahead of the agents trying to stop Peanut. Mangan was also the most fully-realized character, as the large number that appeared led to a number of flat characters such as the beautiful Chinese spy who seduces a married American contractor who fill out archetypes and exist for the purposes of moving the plot along more than adding much to the story in their own right. Similarly, Brookes is more adept at identifying how technology might cause a spy unfamiliar with it to go obsolete than he is at developing the consequences of those themes.

My favorite thriller novels usually raise the tension with a tight narrative that is ultimately a cat-and-mouse game between two entities. Night Heron is a small story with big stakes, but something is lost in that it also stretches to at least four or five distinct locations and with at least three distinct plots. For much of the novel the tension is that of the paranoia of the unknown and is (appropriately for this story, in my opinion) juxtaposed with the chess players back in England whose lives are not immediately at stake. The cats are not awake yet, but the mice know they are there. Toward the end of Night Heron the cats awaken, but this part of the story felt somewhat perfunctory–a frenetic chase that places the mice in danger, causes the arrest of minor characters, and validates their paranoia in spades, but was also a transition that I found jarring. These were all issues I had that were well within the parameters of the story, but that detracted from the pacing and depth of the novel in ways that struck me as signs of a first book while also giving me hope that he can mature as a storyteller.

Night Heron is a good first novel from an author who is worth keeping an eye on and gives plenty to think about, but was to my taste flawed. Hopefully the stories become tighter and more fully fleshed out as Brookes develops his craft and if good reviews continue to come in I will check back in in a few years.

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Next up, I have been slowly making my way through Stefan Zweig’s beautiful The Post Office Girl while doing some recent travel. I also splurged on too many books to list here and as a result have no idea what I am going to read next, but am particularly looking forward to To Each His Own and The Day of the Owl, two short novels by the Sicilian author Leonardo Sciascia.