Escape from reality
I’ve been binge-watching Breaking Bad over the holidays — about that some other time — and this has been on my mind.
The real world is so serious, so I am going to run-run-run runaway.
That is the Aston Martin DB5 used by 007 in Goldfinger. I saw it here, a short walk from my usual cubbyhole in DC. Back in the 1990s, when the internet was a new thing, there was a raging debate among the nerds about which was the best Bond flick. Typically, Goldfinger came out on top, with The Spy Who Loved Me coming a close second. I liked both, and saw merit in both Connery and Moore’s interpretations. I loved Brosnan as Mr Steele — that show being a pretty good intro to classic noir. But he was a flop as 007. I was one of the doubters when Craig got the role. Well, he has simultaneously been the best and worst Bond in his first two outings. With Sam Mendes in charge, I have a good feeling about how he will end.
Goldfinger wasn’t the first Bond movie I was exposed to. Some time in the late 1980s, when VCRs were still a status symbol in Dhaka, I caught this at a friend’s place.
It was around the same time that I first read Masud Rana. The East Bengali spy had been deputed to Egypt before the Six-Day War, trying to find an Israeli agent. I was caught reading the book at school, and was duly punished — the caning wasn’t as bad as not knowing how the damn thing ended. It would be many years before I discovered the original.
Ken Follett was, however, not really my thing. I found classic Forsyth to be lot cooler.
The trailer tells you why The Day of the Jackal is a classic. But I prefer The Dogs of War. Perhaps it’s something to do with being from a coup-prone country myself. But think about it — you know how Jackal would end, De Gaulle lived, didn’t he? Would you have seen the end of The Dogs coming?
Now, one might argue that keeping you hooked for several hundred pages when you know the ending is a mighty feat. Of course, it is. It goes to show how great a writer Forsyth was. A shame his later books are so much weaker.
Another author who went from good — no, bloody good — to ordinary — no, ridiculously crap — is Clancy. The early Jack Ryan novels, politics aside, were fun to read. But after Clear and Present Danger, they became very bad very quickly.
One author I found to be more-or-less consistent throughout his career is Alistair MacLean. Whether it’s war action like The Guns of Navarone or Where Eagles Dare, cold war espionage like The Last Frontier, or a straight out revenge story like Fear is the Key (my favourite) — MacLean’s tight stories of heroes-against-the-odds, delivered in a fast-paced narration, can still keep me up at night.
Interestingly, MacLean didn’t write much in the inter-war era, whereas I think that’s a very fertile ground for thrillers. Think about it. In the Cold War setting, it was pretty clear that East Europeans didn’t want to live under the Soviets. Whether it’s a Le Carre’s scarred Smiley or dhishum dhishum Bond, there were clear goodies and baddies. The inter-war setting is different. Here, the Nazis are clearly baddies. But the war hasn’t actually started yet, and people don’t actually realise how evil the Nazis are. From high society elites in London and Paris to the cabbie who lost his arm in the last war and doesn’t want to see his son blown up in another to the battered housewife who has to deal with a drunken unemployed husband, there are many otherwise good people who think Chamberlain has a point.
Not quite the inter-war, but the new Byomkesh movie seems to be set against a similar backdrop. Let’s see how it plays out.