Thursday, August 7, 2008

Book Review: "A Fragment of Fear" by John Bingham

I needed some diversion from the chores of book promotion for Rubber Babes. Frankly, I'd much rather be reading or writing than talking about doing either. Anyhow, I've always been partial to spy thrillers, even though I've never written one, and I was intrigued to learn that John Le Carré had recommended Bingham as an underrated craftsman of the genre. I had no other reason for picking up this vintage 1965 book, but, as it happens, its similarities to some themes in Rubber Babes are remarkable.

A thinly disguised version of the author is the book's main character and first-person narrator. James Compton is what some Brits call a "total shit." Oh, it's not that he's unscrupulous or dastardly. He's just cold, aloof, obstinate, egocentric, and vain. And, in his profession as writer of true-crime stories, he's both inordinately curious and tenacious. In this book, he obsesses on finding the motive behind the murder of a woman he barely knows--until he has literally made it all about him, to the point of mortal danger.

In repeated fits of paranoia, Compton develops complex theories about the forces of evil he fears are converging on him. Although most of his conclusions turn out to be wrong, his basic fears prove to be more than justified. The bad guys really are out to get him. He's just wrong about who they are and why they want him dead.

"Paranoia is just a heightened state of awareness," quips Rollo Hemphill bravely in Rubber Babes. Like Compton, the bad-boy genius overthinks everything, including that government operatives are after him, with similarly miscalculated results.

The essential difference is that Bingham hopes to bring a chill to your spine, whereas I just want see beer spew out of your nose.

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