Tuesday, November 18, 2008

An Agent Out of Place

I don’t know what it is, I don’t know why it should be, but I’m a total sap for the holidays. I love the food. I love the shopping. Much to my partner’s chagrin, I love the goofy music, the tired old movies, the TV shows that only get dusted off once every 12 months and sent out at us in a massive airwave for a couple of weeks late in the year.

And I love the holiday traditions I’ve built for myself over the decades. One of them involves books and reading. Every year--right around this very moment--publishers release a few select titles totally targeted to only make sense during the holidays. Some of them will become holiday classics, destined to get hauled out year after year, just like the aforementioned goofy TV shows and tired old movies. And some of them will disappear almost without a trace before we even finish picking tinsel out of the rug.

To be perfectly honest, I’m not yet sure on which side of this classic divide thrillermeister David Morrell’s brand-new The Spy Who Came for Christmas (Vanguard) will come down. On the one hand, this is the dude who gifted Rambo to the world. On the other, the Christmas market is a fickle one. I mean, seriously: whatever even happened to Tickle Me Elmo? Think about it.

Little more than novella length, in many ways The Spy Who Came for Christmas is more charming than regular readers of Morrell’s books might expect. This is surprising in a tale that in no way will shortchange those looking for the thrills Morrell always delivers.

Morrell’s story here centers around Kagan, a spy who has long been in deep cover and who now wants out--only his handlers won’t let him go. More: Kagan has in his care a child whose fate might have the power to change the world. The Spy Who Came for Christmas is stuffed full of metaphors. There are some wise men-ish types; and a young mother and her son have been victimized and need Kagan’s help. Possibly other things, as well, but Morrell’s pacing is such that the story flows by very quickly. Metaphor or no, we are reminded that this is one of the top thriller writers of his generation.

That said, I’ll have to revisit the question: contemporary classic, yes or no? And so maybe now I’ll venture out with a cautious “yes,” if only because I suspect it will take multiple readings to pull all of the nuances out of this slender and seemingly simple book. I’ll plan on doing that over a series of years. And maybe that is the place where classics are born. There, of course, and with heart.


Cameron Hughes said...

I always have time for Morrell


Sounds like an old John Lecarre title.

J. Kingston Pierce said...

Good guess. It's actually a riff off the title of Robert Littell's 1991 thriller, An Agent in Place.