I am a huge fan of mystery and spy novels, so when I saw this in a Free Little Library I picked it up based on the title alone. I then read the blurb on the back of the book from a NY Times review which called Littell the American John Le Carré. I don’t like Le Carré’s work (based on the two books of his that I have read), so it took me a while to decide I was going to read this anyway – and I am so glad I did.
This is one of those spy novels that keeps you guessing until the end. Once you finish the book you are annoyed with the author for ending the story because you really, really need to know about the rest of these characters’ lives. Who are the “good guys” and who are the “bad guys” comes into question over and over. There is espionage and counter-espionage and are the Russians involved at all? You think you understand what is happening, and then you don’t, over and over again. Chapter 5 seems to come out of nowhere – as if the author accidentally included the chapter of a completely different book – but keep going, you’ll get there in the end.
I can see why Littell is compared to Le Carré (amongst others). No offense to Mr. Le Carré and his legions of fans, but I think Littell’s work is more accessible. Into a classic spy novel Littell brings not just tension and intrigue, but also humor and morality. This book is one of the most original, interesting, and quirky spy novels I have read.