Wednesday, March 01, 2006

A literary thriller for fans of Syriana

In 2005 one of my favorite films was Syriana and one of my favorite books was The Unknown Soldier by Gerald Seymour.

If you like one, my bet is you would enjoy the other. And even if you are unlike Roger Ebert and didn't like Syriana, I think there's a good chance you might enjoy The Unknown Soldier.

Both have multiple story lines which intersect in interesting ways, and both are international thrillers with plot lines that are, unfortunately, all too plausible.

I don't read many books, fiction or nonfiction, involving terrorism--seeing it the daily papers and on the news is enough--but this novel is very nicely plotted with well-crafted characters.

Jonathan Yardley reviewed The Unknown Soldier for the Washington Post. You can read the whole review here, but I want to underscore his final paragraph:
The Unknown Soldier is being marketed as a "thrillingly suspenseful novel from one of the world's masters of espionage fiction," which is accurate enough and presumably will do it good in the bookstores, but it sells the book short. Like the work of other writers to whom Seymour is somewhat predictably compared--Charles McCarry, Robert Littell, Alan Furst and, of course, John le Carré--The Unknown Soldier is more than a thriller. In time, events will outpace it, and the specifics of its plot will lose their immediacy, but the deeper matters with which Seymour concerns himself will retain their pertinence and importance. Today's and tomorrow's events are the framework around which the novel is constructed, but it is about people, not bombs. It is about why people do what they do, believe what they do, love and hate as they do. Psychologically it is acute and sensitive. If this is merely "genre fiction," then perhaps we need to take a closer look at what we rather smugly call "literature."
Rather than go on about the book, I'll suggest this 1-minute video of the author describing what the book is about.

Both of Seymour's parent's were published writers--which is why, he has said, he never thought of becoming one himself as he was growing up. Instead he became a war correspondent and only turned to fiction when another journalist, Frederick Forsyth, hit it big with The Day of The Jackel. "That really hit the newsrooms. There was a feeling that it should be part of a journalist's knapsack to have a thriller."

If he got off to a delayed start he's not dawdled since: Seymour has published over 20 novels in the last thirty years.

--Marshal Zeringue

Note: Special thanks to Friend of the Blog Kurt van der Walde for recommending this novel to me.