Day 1203: The 1977 Club! The Honourable Schoolboy

Cover for The Honourable SchoolboyI actually read this novel before the 1977 Club was announced, but I was pleased to find that it was published in that year. I have a couple of other books I’m reviewing this week that I read especially for the club.

Here are my previous reviews of some other books published in 1977:

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I wasn’t aware that there was a sequel to John Le Carré’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy until I picked up The Honourable Schoolboy and started reading it. It is truly a worthy successor.

In summarizing the plot, I have to give away a key point of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, but a point revealed toward the beginning of the novel. In that novel, of course, George Smiley uncovered a mole for the Russians high up in British intelligence. Because of the mole’s position, as The Honourable Schoolboy begins, all of the service’s spy networks are compromised and must be dismantled.

With a small staff of personnel who were dismissed during his predecessor’s reign, Smiley must figure out a way to make the service viable again. He has the idea that they can look for intelligence in the lacunae of his predecessor’s work, that is, look for promising leads that were suppressed.

1977 club logoThey find one, payments by the Russians to an account in Hong Kong, first small ones but later very large. Since the “spook house” in Hong Kong has been closed, Smiley recalls a journalist, an “occasional” agent, Jerry Westerby, from retirement in Tuscany to investigate this lead. A tangled path leads him from a Chinese businessman in Hong Kong to the man’s former prostitute English mistress, a Mexican drug courier in Vientiane, and some ugly dealings.

It is always amazing to me that Le Carré can evoke as much excitement from a paper chase as from an action sequence. Once again, he is in top form with a taut thriller. This novel is set against a backdrop of Southeast Asia exploding into chaos with the end of the Vietnam War. Westerby’s investigations take him to Hong Kong, Shanghai, Phnom Penh, Vientiane, and Saigon.

Related Posts

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

A Perfect Spy

A Delicate Truth

Day 439: Shanghai Girls

Cover for Shanghai GirlsIn 1937 Shanghai, Pearl Chin and her younger sister May are having the time of their lives. Thoroughly westernized and modern girls of a wealthy family, they spend their time shopping, socializing, and having their portraits painted. They are two of the Beautiful Girls, whose images appear on advertisements and giveaway calendars.

Pearl has a slight source of discontent at home, for she feels her parents favor and spoil the more beautiful May. Nevertheless, the girls are inseparable.

They are heedless to the rumblings of trouble, including the changes in their home and in their own father’s voice when he wants to tell them something. Soon he forces them to listen. He has gambled away his fortune and has arranged for his daughters to marry the sons of a wealthy businessman from the United States.

It is not long before they have met and married Sam and Vernon Louie. Sam seems pleasant to Pearl, but Vernon, May’s husband, is only fourteen and never speaks. Their father is stern and humiliates the girls on the morning after the wedding. The men leave to conduct their business and agree to meet the girls in Hong Kong before sailing, but the girls have no intention of going.

All this while there have been other signs of trouble. The Japanese are invading China and working their way toward Shanghai. The girls and their mother are forced to try to make their way to Hong Kong amid the brutality of war. Finally, they have no choice but to flee to America. A lot has already happened to the girls, but there is much more to come.

Shanghai Girls is an absorbing historical novel that examines the treatment to which Chinese immigrants were subjected for decades in the United States. The novel continues until the early 1950’s, when we learn how the Red Scare affected scores of settled Chinese immigrants, many of whom had long lived in America when China was taken over by the Communists.

I wasn’t sure how believable I found the end of the book, but it is clearly the setup to a sequel. Although I missed the delicate writing style of See’s earlier novels, her style here is appropriate for this more modern story. I am not sure I want to follow Pearl’s heedless daughter Joy into danger, but I probably will.