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Gurglings of a Putrid Stream

Thoughts on books and other assorted topics.

See also:  http://goppf.wikidot.com/swstart

My name:  Brian Martin

The Charm School by Nelson DeMille

The Charm School - Nelson DeMille

One of the last Cold War novels of the Cold War period. Published in 1988, the book, with its POW/MIA theme--and its setting in a mighty USSR--is situated more comfortably in the decade of Rambo than in the political reality of the late eighties/early nineties. In '89, the Berlin Wall came down and in '91, the Soviet Union was officially dissolved. In this context, it's amusing, in a way, and quite impossible to take seriously. Fortunately, this is fiction and none of that really matters. Except for some of the technology, this could just as easily have been written two or three decades earlier. Spiritually, it stands alongside The Manchurian Candidate, and evokes memories of an earlier time and a different, in some ways more frightening, world.

Sure, it's too long, but that's less a criticism than an observation of style. The hero, Sam Hollis, may be a man of few words, but pithiness isn't really part of DeMille's literary toolbox. For one thing, I enjoyed many of the book's lengthy dialogues, which reminded me of all the times, in other books, I've wondered just when it was that the characters actually communicated to each other something besides plot points.

Speaking of plot, though...What had to happen was simple: the Charm School itself had to live up to the opening of the novel, which is when we first hear of it. The opening is a wonderful grabber, both spooky and full of impending doom. But a lot of books start out well--because there's still a sense of mystery. The real test is what happens when the veils start to fall. Here, DeMille seems to have started with the Charm School, his central mystery, and then worked backward to that terrific opening. True, when all is revealed, it's no longer spooky, exactly, but it's just as dreadful.

Don't expect complex characters or deep political philosophy, of course: this is a thriller, after all. But there's enough ambiguity so that if you take the time to think about it (not required), you can come up with some pretty interesting questions.