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Friday, June 20, 2008

short book review: topaz by leon uris.

For some lighter summer blogging, I’m planning on posting a series of short book reviews from my summer’s reading (and re-reading) list. First up is the 1967 spy thriller novel Topaz by Leon Uris. I discovered Topaz at the Wee Book Inn on Whyte Avenue and for $2.50 it was mine.

Originally published in 1967, the story takes place in the tense years of the early 1960s in the deep dark depths of the Cold War. Uris’ story follows the life of French SDECE agent Andre Devereaux and CIA agent Michael Nordstrom. Stationed at the French Embassy in Washington DC, Devereaux is the top French Secret Service agent in the American capital in the lead up to the Cuban Missile Crisis. The lead up to the crisis sees Devereaux and his American CIA allies deal with the interrogation of a high-level KGB defector who informs his Devereaux and Nordstrom of an intricate Soviet spy ring deep within the French Security Services which had infiltrated the top ranks of the French Republic – including a mole, codenamed 'Topaz', in the Office of French President Pierre La Croix (a character based on Charles de Gaulle).

The story takes Devereaux from Washington to Paris to Cuba (to the chagrin of his wife, Nicole) and does an interesting job at explaining on the geo-political mess of agendas and egos that existed between the French-American and Soviet-Cuban alliances during this period. Though a historical fiction, the story leans a lot on the history between American and French tension within NATO dating back to the toxic relationship between the French Resistance, the Free French, and the United States Army during the Second World War.

Flashback scenes throughout the book tell the story of La Croix's rise to power and his tensions with NATO during the 1960s (which in real life led to the French withdrawal from NATO command). Uris did a good job in highlighting the ambitions of the French President to return his Republic to the colonial world power that it was before WWII and the conflict that this created in a new Soviet-American dominated world power scene.

Overall, it’s an enjoyable and well researched summer read (and was well worth the $2.50).

(I haven’t seen it yet, but Alfred Hitchcock adapted the story to film in 1969).

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