Somebody, somewhere, alerted me to Charles McCarry, and his marvelous The Tears of Autumn.
I know, I know: The Tears of Autumn was published in 1974.
And it's set in 1963.
But it is just so marvelous!
Partly, it's because McCarry is a very elegant writer. There is a certain way in which you are supposed to write This Sort of Book, and McCarry pulls that off as well as anyone:
In Orvieto Christopher found a coffee bar just opening and sat by the window drinking caffe latte, alone with the teen-aged boy who worked the early shift. At eight o'clock the street filled up with Italians, as though the town had been turned upside down like a sack and its people spilled into the morning. Once, after a week in Switzerland and a drive through the night over the Saint Bernard, he and Molly had arrived at the same time of day in Torino. When she saw the Italians again, shouting and gesticulating, Molly had leaped up, spread her arms as if to embrace them, and cried, "The human race!"
Christopher walked through the crowd to the post office and mailed Pigeon's confession and Dieter Dimpel's photographs and Yu Lung's horoscopes to himself in care of general delivery, Washington. The envelope would arrive by registered airmail in four days' time.
But even more than the fluidity and grace of McCarry's writing, what really sets him apart is the efficient and economical way in which he manages his story.
Imagine a modern thriller writer delivering a tale like this, spanning four continents, involving politics, culture, military affairs, language, and so much more; surely it would require seven or eight hundred pages to accomplish. But McCarry handles it in barely two hundred and fifty pages.
Yet it never feels rushed or crowded.
Instead, time and again, as our hero visits some place, talks with some person, or observes some event, what you originally take as "just" color, "merely" background, turns out to be critical information that all falls neatly and precisely into place, at just the right moment.
It's immensely satisfying.
I'm not sure if I shall find the time to dip back in to McCarry's many other books. Are they all as good as this?
I suppose there's only one way to find out.