Okay, I'll admit it. I'm cheating on this one. Someone's already written about it. What's that you say? You've read every single Forgotten Book blog post, and you don't remember this one? Well, before you go on, click here. Read the post (with which I wholeheartedly agree), and come on back. I'll wait for you.
Back so soon? You didn't cheat, did you? If you didn't, you might be scratching your head and thinking I made a mistake. After all, the link takes you to a review of Isle of Joy by Don Winslow, published in England in 1996 by Arrow books, whereas the photo on my blog is of A Winter Spy by MacDonald Lloyd. It was published in the U. S. by Signet Books in 1997.
And it's the same book as Isle of Joy, though there's no mention of that title anywhere on the cover or copyright page, just as there's no mention of any previous publication. The copyright page does mention Don Winslow, but this book's not included in the bibliography on his website (Isle of Joy is). I don't know what the deal is, but I thought it was interesting. Maybe you don't, but, after all, it's my blog. Also, it's my excuse for talking about the book. It's the same one, all right, but then again, it's got a different title and author's name. It's also a lot easier to find and a lot cheaper to buy than Isle of Joy.
Winslow is one of my current favorites, and this book is extremely good. It's a Cold War spy novel, set between Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve, 1958, back in the days before the world changed. Walter Withers has left the C.I.A. and joined a big private investigations firm. He's asked to bodyguard Madeleine Keneally, the wife of presidential candidate Joe Keneally. You can read the Kennedys into this easily enough. There's no question about who the characters "really" are, and plenty of other familair folks appear. Some of them even go by their own names. J. Edgar Hoover comes to mind, along with Carroll Rosenbloom. (Winslow's description of the NFL Championship Game of 1958 between the Colts and the Giants is both entertaining and highly cynical.)
Winslow takes his time in this book, introducing the characters, setting up the situation, and describing New York City. (The book is a love story in more ways than one. But one of them is about Walter Withers' love for the city. Anybody who lived in New York around 1959 should really like this novel.) By the second half of the book, everything comes together in a series of dazzling single, double, and triple crosses. Winslow has so many balls in the air that you wonder how he'll ever manage them, but he does, with the help of a bit of coincidence here and there. Mostly, though, we learn that, as Freud said, there are no accidents. Everything was planned from the start, or at least set in motion.
One thing I particularly liked was Withers' occasional reading to the very ill wife of one of his colleagues. The book Withers chooses is One Lonely Night, which is an entirely different sort of Cold War novel, the antithesis of A Winter Spy, and I love this comment: ". . . the G-men . . .had little to do until Mickey Spillane alerted them to the communist menace and Hoover started to do his Michael Palmer impersonation and saw Red spies everywhere." This is the first time I've seen Spillane blamed for the Red Scare, and of course Winslow's kidding. At least a little bit.
Why didn't this book sell a ton? I have no idea. Great writing, wonderful characters, loving recreation of a time and a place, a love story, a spy thriller, and more. What do people want, anyway? I know, I know. They want James Patterson, but they're missing a heck of a great read.