The Miernik Dossier by Charles McCarry….
Charles McCarry (1930-2019) belongs in the upper echelons of spy fiction folklore. A man who wrote from real experience as a deep-cover CIA operative in Asia and Africa during the fifties and sixties, his books carry the kind of validity most others in the genre could only hope for.
The Miernik Dossier first published in 1973 was both his first novel and the first of his Paul Christopher stories. It is brilliantly written, the format is clever, convincing for the most part and flows better than one might expect from a book written as multiple surveillance reports and agent testimonies. We know enough about intelligence work to understand the importance of such reports and the risks so often involved in getting them to their intended recipient but the beauty of this book is seeing multiple reports from multiple sources and the task the reader is given to determine the truth.
Unlike many authors of the genre McCarry manages to make the implausible sound plausible, given his work history one supposes his plots are more realistic than most, the webs of deceit he weaves throughout the story are every bit as good as Le Carré with the pleasing exception of enjoying a brisker pace to the crux of the story. This is not a book for the casual reader, McCarry’s genius is in the varying angles each character brings to the story and the task the reader is given in interpreting the evidence set out by each report and statement.
Taking McCarry and this storyline at face value will trip you up, he combines an intriguing road trip of interesting characters with the complexity of the ‘great game’ and reminds us how that game spread far further than the usual hunting grounds of Cold War Europe. The Cold War produced many casualties both physically and mentally and McCarry conveys this brilliantly in the book, right up and most especially, to the end when the true worth of a pawn in the game is revealed. The character of Paul Christopher is believable and worthy of further reading, that the author never received the recognition of Le Carré and Deighton and that Paul Christopher’s exploits never made it to a cinema audience is a loss for us all.
Charles McCarry died in 2019 aged eighty eight.
Categories: The Reading Room
Ha! I’ve got a post on this book queued up for next week. Must be serendipity.
At the risk of spoiling my review, you’re right, Miernik Dossier is a great first novel and the format is so good at making the reader complicit in what happens. It’s really a spy novel that deserves wider attention.
And McCarry was still writing some pretty good thrillers well into his 80’s!
Jeff, Thanks for the comment. He was a great writer indeed, really had a great insight into the inner workings. Look forward to reading your account!!