Wednesday, January 14, 2015
Out of print for fifteen years, Lawrence Block's third book in his hilarious Tanner series is back...And this time the intrepid spy is up to his neck in a dozen leggy beauties and a life-and-death smuggling assignment out of the cold corners of Russia.
The Tanner books were always rather odd ducks. Compared to blocks other novels, they always spells, if not derivative, then overly influenced. The results combined elements of Ambler, Westlake, and various 60s spy novelists but the elements never really meshed.
Part of this was no doubt due to Block's youth and lack of experience. Tanner was his first series and he pumped them out quite quickly. A deeper problem is probably his discomfort with the cartoonish world of most spy novels. That said, possibly the most interesting aspect of the series is the most cartoonish: The radical politics of the 1960s.
Tanner made a habit of joining, and as much as possible,sincerely supporting every fringe movement he could find . Some of these, like the Flat Earth society, were simply presented as lovable kooks. For most, however, it was the craziness of holding on to a lost cause despite impossible odds.
Nor were all of these fringe groups all that hopeless. A major plot point involves a socialist liberation movement which overthrows a CIA supported dictatorship with Tanner's help. Even when nominally working for U.S. intelligence, he often deliberately undercuts their objectives when he disapproves of them.
This edition also includes an interesting afterword by Block. Among other things, he reveals that the title of the book, before his publisher changed it, was appropriately, the Lettish Tomatoes.
Posted by Mark at 12:13 AM