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The Company: A Novel of the CIA By Robert Littell

Jacket: Hardcover
Pages: 892 pages
Publisher: The Overlook Press (April 11, 2002)
Genre: Espionage
ISBN: 1585671975

Comments about the author: Robert Littell is "one of the best writers of spycraft and intrigue now practicing," to quote George Kelley in the St. James Guide to Crime and Mystery Writers. "Littell," explained Joseph Finder in the Washington Post, "doesn't write spy novels; he writes satires of spy novels. Since his first, the Cold War classic The Defection of A. J. Lewinter... he has been steadily creating his own subgenre, what might be called the meta-thriller, or perhaps the counter-thriller--witty and highly original tales that play off the cliches of the Cold War spy novel and subvert them."

Review: Snapshot: A glossy Polaroid print of Jack McAuliffe and Leo Kritzky strolling along the sun-saturated bank of the Rhone River in Basel, Switzerland. Jack, his Cossack mustache and thinning hair riffled by the breeze blowing off the river, is wearing prescription sunglasses, a khaki safari jacket and khaki chinos. Leo, his face thin and drawn, is dressed in a light Russian windbreaker and a peaked worker’s cap. Both men are so absorbed in their conversation they don’t appear to notice the street photographer who stepped into their path and snapped the picture. Leo reacted violently. Jack calmed him down and quickly purchased the photograph for twenty Swiss franks, which was twice the normal price. Leo wanted to destroy it but Jack had another idea. Uncapping a pen, he scrawled across the face of the picture, “Jack and Leo before The Race but after The Fall,” and gave it to Leo as a memento of what was to be their last encounter.

Jack McAuliffe, Leo Kritzky, Harvey Torritti; Winstrom Ebbitt II; James Jesus Angleton; and a host of others: These are just a few of the characters that put flesh on the bones of Robert Littell’s thirteenth novel “The Company.” Spanning fifty years of intrigue, deceit and open warfare, this novel is a finely woven tapestry of historical and fictional characters couched in real life events that shaped the world we live in today.

Robert Littell’s novel is a great read that kept me entertained for many, many hours. While this was an enjoyable book, readers should make no mistake; this is a mammoth work that takes every bit of 894 pages. Littell meticulously weaves in his fictional characters with historical personas and events in a story that is so robust it almost appears to be non-fiction. Throughout the book I kept imagining what an excellent film this would make. Towards that end I pictured John Goodman as the hard drinking Harvey Torritti, “honcho” of the famed Berlin Base. Known as The Sorcerer, Torritti is the ultimate gamesman. With skill and daring surely mastered by only a select few, he deftly runs a critical station, arranges defections [aka “putting in the plumbing”] and introduces new recruit Jack McAuliffe to the real “wilderness of mirrors.”

There are other characters who are just as well developed and lend themselves to striking mental imagery. James Jesus Angleton is but one such character. A master of the subtleties of the espionage game Angleton is a true-life character that was so engrossed in the world of intrigue he drew striking parallels between the human condition and the tremendous effort and patience it takes to breed orchids. Fantastic imagery. The Company is a good summer read that, although a bit on the long side, will hold your attention to the end.

— Reviewed by: Timothy E. McMahon, M.S.


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