The Mulberry Bush by Charles McCarry
Mysterious Press, $26.00, 308 pages, ISBN 978-0-8021-2410-4
Somewhere in the big junkyard that passes as my mind, there’s a snippet of a country song that goes . . . “I thought I’d been loved and I thought I’d been kissed, but that was before I met you . . .” which I’m going to rip off and paraphrase to introduce this week’s Mysterious Book Report. It goes like this: I thought I’d read all the great spy novels, but that was before I read the man many consider to be the greatest spy writer of all time. His name is Charles McCarry, and his works are known for their accurate historical facts, their spot-on spy and tradecraft details, and their extensive knowledge of Washington D.C. politics, as well as what Publisher’s Weekly calls, “Meticulous, intelligent prose.”
His newest standalone, The Mulberry Bush, is a masterpiece which combines age-old themes of love, revenge, duplicity, treachery and revolution into a complex and twisted noir thriller involving, “Themes of trust, motive and tarnished ideals,” according to Kirkus Reviews.
It’s a complex plot in which a young, unnamed spy sees his father drummed out of CIA . . . because of a prank that made his superiors look foolish . . . and then reduced to penury and destitution, begging for coins at Union Station, homeless and living in the street. Vowing to avenge his fathers disgrace, the young man, who has a talent for languages, speaking Arabic, Pashtun, and Farsi, gets accepted at CIA and works as an ‘off-the-books,’ agent under deep cover in the Middle East, where he locates and identifies terrorists so other CIA agents can kill them. He’s so successful at it, that after a few years the terrorist organizations are pooling their resources, trying to find him. He’s brought back to Langley, Virginia in order to save and protect him. Still focused on revenge and without much to do, he studies Russian, becoming proficient in less than a year. Then, still off the books, he’s posted to Argentina, where he meets a woman named Luz, whose parents were also betrayed and killed . . . a woman who wants revenge. . . and seems to be his soulmate. They marry, intending to bring his plan to fruition, or so he thinks . . . but “The truth of spies is lies.” according to Mr. McCarry . . . and the novel rocks along with new plot twists, turns and treachery on every page until its stunning denouement . . . at which point . . . if you love reading spy yarns, you’ll think, Why didn’t I see that coming? and start looking for McCarry’s other works. He’s erudite, prosaic, addictive, devilishly complex, and yeah, he’s probably the greatest spinner of spy yarns working in contemporary fiction. I’m a fan!