Sunday, 24 August 2014

Book Review: The Paris Trap

March Hare
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Joseph Hone is a spy novelist who made something of a splash in the 1970s but whose star was eclipsed by the likes of John Le Carré. Hone's books have been re-released as 'Faber Finds', including Kindle editions which are, for the back list of a 1970s author, massively over-priced at £5.99.

I bought The Paris Trap because of a recommendation on Twitter - as I buy so many of my books now. And I got a fascinating book for my money. Author Jeremy Duns, introduced by uber-geek Gerald Donovan, shared the first page of the book on Twitter and the text leaped off the page at me. Set in Riyadh, it clearly was going to be an extraordinary read. In fact, the introduction to the Faber Finds edition is by Jeremy, who says he regards Hone as 'One of the great spy novelists of the twentieth century.'

All well and good - but what I didn't realise was quite how extraordinary a read this was to turn out to be.

For a start, Hone was writing in a simpler time. So his editors didn't stop him doing all the things editors throw their hands up at today, from lazy adverbs and clear 'writer's kinks' (he constantly uses 'some' in similes as in 'some great bird' and - actually - constantly uses similes that would give Dan Brown a run for their daftness money) through to sillinesses such as "I tried to remember what the label reminded me of. And then I remembered."

Suddenly, I realised, Faber, for your £5.99, certainly weren't prepared to edit this baby. The text was merely jammed into a file converter, unloved and unread (presumably), leaving us with classics such as "I couldn't avoid an unpleasant sneer oranger."

Of anger. They meant of anger. Similarly "autumntinted" and "attaché casefor a file" and others such as word repetitions - silly 'literals' that shouldn't be in a text from a major publisher. And certainly not for - you may have got the feeling I have an issue with this and you may just be right - £5.99.

Whether this lack of editing is what left idiocies such as "a tactful after-shave lotion" in the MS we may never know. Let alone "the sugary orchestra"...

So what about the plot, the premise, the big idea? Bear with me here, it gets a bit involved. Super-spy Harry Tyson used to write TV scripts and had created a successful series called 'Hero' before joining British Intelligence as a real life spy. Hero is to be made into a feature film starring blue-eyed hearthrob Jim Hackett. Terrorists sympathetic to the Palestinian cause kidnap Harry's girlfriend Katy and Susie, his daughter by estranged wife Sarah in an attempt to coerce Harry into rewriting the screenplay of the film to make it more sympathetic to their cause. We've barely even started here and I'm already drooling and banging my head gently against the laptop keyboard. I also can't shake Jim Hacker from Yes, Prime Minister. I know it's wrong, but it's in my head like a Bony M single and I can't get it out.

Jim Hackett, an old friend of Harry and Sarah's, is estranged from wife Katy - Harry's girlfriend, although Jim and Susan don't know it. They, meanwhile, are sleeping together. Enter the French police, who are brutal, stupid and great at getting shot at. There's a French film maker called Belvoir and a French copper called Brion. With Sarahs and Susans, Belvoirs and Brions I'm already getting confused and that's without adding Anna Kalina the dumpy terrorist intellectual with a habit of wearing baggy jumpers and yet who has a gorgeous face. This makes her a Lesbian, apparently. I'd have thought dungarees would have done, but who am I to cavil at a chap's characterisations?

Anna has kidnapped Katy and Susan and is hiding them in a hole in the ground where she likes to drink Hine cognac and kiss people. She kisses Harry before sending him out into the world to rewrite his script and shoot Hero while his woman and daughter are held by terrorists in a bunker. His woman, Katy (previously Jim Hacker's smacker) is of Russian noble extraction (sorry, Hackett) and yet doesn't know much about Napoleon beyond Empire Line Dresses. She is a dress designer. I might have forgotten to mention that. At one stage, while she is being held by terrorists in a bunker, Jim and Harry work on the launch of her new collection which they aren't going to let a simple kidnapping disrupt. It all gets pretty messy, to tell the truth.

Harry's daughter, a pebble-glassed schoolgirl, is fascinated by Napoleon and so she and Katy set to in their new bunker home, making a Napoleonic puppet theatre. If only Terry Waite or John McCarthy had thought of this, the years would have simply flown by for them. 

Katy, by the way, buys Harry a present of a 'sweetly pornographic peepshow'. Before she is kidnapped, clearly. The market for sweetly pornographic peepshows in terrorist bunker hideouts being - as far as I am aware and you can please feel entirely free to correct me here - limited. 

We are reminded of this sweetly pornographic peepshow many times for some reason. Perhaps because Katy turns out to be a lesbian, too, eventually suddenly realising in a single moment of Anna's animal magnetism that she doesn't like boys and sex hurts her. If sex hurts you, you are clearly lesbian. And vice versa. Hope that clears up things for any of you gels out there feeling a little confused about things. Go get yourself a baggy jumper see if you feel any the better for it.

There is much in the novel that doesn't belong in a novel. For instance: "The Inspector stood up, walked over to the top of a filing cabinet, put the top back on a thermos of coffee and adjusted his shirt and tie in a little mirror on the wall behind. Then he blew his nose and settled his moustache."


BTW, Thermos is a proper noun and so gets a capital T, Faber.

Simile. Often odd if not a wee bit looney. "Striding around the first-floor salon like a minor prophet" had me wondering how minor prophets stride, while a warring couple "returned to the fray like sleep walkers". 

If you really want to go to town, try "I took in the two absorbed figures beneath the arched ceiling, set against the white-washed background, in a moment - as in a picture: this suddenly proffered domestic interior, like the vision of a room seen while walking down a foreign village street at midday: an old man shaving from a bucket, or a woman turning a mattress - the work of other people's worlds, which we may share intimately for a moment, before losing it all in the next step we take down the street going back to our hotel."

I mean, whaaaaat? The shouty man's scaring me, mummy...

There are many Wisdoms: strange descents into claptrap and odd gobbets of tossed-in half-thought that draw the reader up and leave the questing mind wandering around, clutching at imaginary butterflies in search of anything that might be justification for the latest surreal assertion: "Children can remain the same for months on end and then suddenly change overnight." and, later on, "She wanted to surprise herself - not be the surprise."

Put the gun down, dude. Step back slowly.

There are issues of POV (or Point of View) throughout. I wouldn't usually bring this up as I think POV quibbles are the territory inhabited by Word Nazis, but they genuinely interfere with the flow in this book. The whole mixes Harry's first person POV chapters with third person chapters, but then we also flip-flop between the two and Harry has a nasty habit of knowing what everyone else is thinking. Show not tell, my editor would be screaming and I'd have to hit the cur hard to shut him up. "Katy, I could see, was conjuring up that lost world of sleigh-bells and privilege and sensibility even as she spoke - as a person will plan future holidays to take his mind off a serious illness which he comes to forget, poring over time-tables and sunny brochures."

Harry's a mind reader, although he would appear to be dyslexic.

There's a whole scene featuring Alain Belvoir the film maker and his old parents or someone like that. It features a loving portrait of an old lady called Chummy who has flaking skin and shitty ducks. I do not know for the life of me why any editor would have left it in the book.

The dialogue is generally a horse's arse, too. "Brion was tired: he could only speak in clichés." had me laughing precisely because that's what Brion had been doing all along. And everyone else, for that matter. Later on Harry puts his finger on the very button. "Sometimes," He opines, "it all gets too stupid."

Reluctantly I have to stop, although there's a lot more. I had started making notes in my Kindle text, something I rarely, if ever, do unless I'm working on an edit or my or someone else's work. I like to enjoy books I'm reading, not pick them apart. But I couldn't help myself, simply because there's just so much in here you can't read fluidly or without being brought up time and time again by the flubs and bumps. To channel Hone, it was like a turbulent flight peppered with constant changes at foreign terminals like a series of interruptions that reminds one of the workings of complex roundabout systems such as those found in city centres that have a concatenation of major routes like some long piece of Italian pasta.

Don't get me wrong - don't think I disliked this book, because I didn't. I enjoyed it immensely. But for the wrong reasons, I suspect. This book is a text book raw MS for editors to practice on. It contains every quirk, error, oddity and clunk you'd want to demonstrate every aspect of good book editing for the modern self-editing author or professional editor. It's a classic 'before' manuscript that fails to tell its story well because of its legion flaws - including the fact the basic story premise itself is as stupid as a pair of gin-pissed March hares who've got their paws on an inexhaustible supply of Amyl Nitrate soaked carrots.

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