Saturday, March 2, 2019


Charles McCarry: R.I.P.

From the NYT:

Charles McCarry, a former C.I.A. agent who used his Cold War experiences to animate his widely admired espionage novels, notably The Tears of Autumn, a best seller about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, died on Tuesday in Fairfax, Va. He was 88. His son Caleb said the cause was complications of a cerebral hemorrhage caused by a fall.

The soft-spoken Mr. McCarry followed other former spies into writing fiction, a group that includes Graham Greene, Ian Fleming and David Cornwell, who writes under the pseudonym John le CarrĂ©. And over nearly 40 years, Mr. McCarry’s dense plotting, realistic detail and brisk writing style brought him a reputation as one of espionage fiction’s leading practitioners.

“McCarry is the best modern writer on the subject of intrigue — by the breadth of Alan Furst, by the fathom of Eric Ambler, by any measure,” the political satirist P. J. O’Rourke wrote in a review of Mr. McCarry’s “Old Boys” (2004) in The Weekly Standard.

Old Boy is the sixth of seven novels that center on Paul Christopher, an urbane agent for the Outfit (read: the C.I.A.), who first appeared in The Miernik Dossier (1973), an inventive tale told through letters, surveillance reports, diaries and transcripts of phone conversations. The Christopher character — Mr. McCarry’s equivalent of George Smiley — returned the next year in The Tears of Autumn.

The Tears of Autumn, Mr. McCarry’s biggest seller, reimagines the Kennedy assassination as payback by the South Vietnamese — using Cubans and the Mafia as go-betweens — for the White House’s role in the coup that led to the death of President Ngo Dinh Diem weeks before Kennedy was gunned down. Christopher travels the world to prove that his theory is correct.

McCarry’s years as an undercover operative served him well,” the critic Patrick Anderson wrote in The Washington Post in 2005, when Tears was reissued. “Some of the novel’s best moments show Christopher meeting with a variety of revolutionaries, rogues and killers.”

He added, “The Christopher novels are brilliant, but their flaw is that their hero has no flaw — he is too good to be true.”

Although he described his undercover work — the dead drops, the cover stories, the clandestine rendezvous — as unglamorous and tedious, Mr. McCarry said he had surrendered to it as the foundation of his intricately plotted novels.

No comments: