Thursday, September 17, 2015

Review of Black Bear by Aly Monroe (2013, John Murray)

1947 and British spy Peter Cotton has arrived in New York as part of an advance British delegation to check out the nascent United Nations.  Shortly after arriving he wakes up in the Ogden Clinic, an exclusive recovery centre for veterans.  His physician is surprised that he is both alive and not brain-damaged, having been found badly battered in a doorway, injected with three different truth-drugs.  As Cotton slowly recovers he’s plagued by vertigo, colour blindness, tunnel vision and hallucinations.  He has no recollection of his abduction and interrogation and cannot make sense of why he’s been left alive.  Both British and American intelligence are interested in his case, but both are guarded in their dealings with him.  As soon as Cotton is well enough he heads to Rhode Island to recover in peace, but despite the two months break he can’t help wondering what happened to him and speculating on who was responsible and why.

Black Bear is the fourth book in the Peter Cotton series.  It’s quite a curious book, being somewhat compelling despite the fact that very little seems to happen.  Cotton wakes in a clinic, slowly recovers, is discharged and heads away on vacation to recover, he makes friends with a couple of locals, and interacts with a couple of American and British intelligence agents.  And yet, Monroe manages to make all that mundanity somehow interesting, in part by driving the story along through character development, in part by capturing the reader’s need to discover what happened to him, and in part by layering in authentic historical detail.  I found the ending somewhat of anti-climax, but then the whole story is under-played, a kind of antithesis of the spills and thrills variety of spy tale.  Assuming that’s partly the aim, the book succeeds admirably.

1 comment:

Mathew Paust said...

I like the concept. As you say, an antithesis to the harum scarum "thriller" model so ubiquitous these days. I would add a "much welcomed" antithesis. Thanks for the intro.