What's a Common Reader -- and what is Uncommon Reading?

Virginia Woolf defined a common reader as someone who is not a scholar; not a critic. A common reader "reads for his own pleasure rather than to impart knowledge or correct the opinions of others. Above all, he is guided by an instinct to create for himself, out of whatever odds and ends he can come by, some kind of whole." By that definition, I'm definitely a common reader -- reading an uncommonly large and diverse collection of books.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Books to Help Beat the Heat: "Bloodmoney" by David Ignatius

"Revenge," muses one of the protagonists in David Ignatius's excellent summer thriller, Bloodmoney, "comes in different flavors. Sometimes it is a swift act of rage that shatters the mast the oppressor has created for you. Other times it is a slow process in which the mask is an essential shield to cover actions that the oppressor could not imagine." Ignatius's novel is all about revenge; even the title comes from the idea that by paying a sum of money or providing something else of value, it is possible to settle a blood feud in areas of the world like Waziristan, the frontier region of Pakistan that is home to Omar. In the first pages of the thriller, Omar loses his entire family to a missile fired by an unmanned U.S. drone and resolves to take his revenge on those whom he holds responsible.

Flash forward in time, and westward in space, and the reader is catapulted into the world of Sophie Marx, recently named head of "the Hit Parade". It's really not an entertainment business, but a deniable offshoot of the CIA located in Los Angeles, undertaking tasks that the administration really wants done, but doesn't want to know about. But now the Hit Parade's agents abroad -- all of whom should have impeccable, unbreakable covers -- are being assassinated, and it's up to Sophie to figure out why.

In many ways this is a standard thriller, but like most good thrillers, there are bad guys on both sides of the battle, and good guys to be found in some unexpected places. I had a great time following Sophie's efforts to unravel the puzzle of how and why the agents were being detected and eliminated, a process that takes her undercover in a London hedge fund and into harm's way in Pakistan.  True, the whodunnit was well-flagged, given the introductory chapter, but that didn't hamper my enjoyment. After all, just because you know a big loop is coming on a rollercoaster doesn't mean you don't enjoy the ride, does it? And there are plenty of surprises looming in the final pages of this novel, and a few great twists. As a writer of spy thrillers, Ignatius may not rank alongside the caliber of John LeCarre -- but then, how many do? This was a great summertime novel, a "thumping good read" that offers up a bit of food for thought about revenge and honor codes even as it entertains. 4.1 stars, recommended.

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