Superior genre fiction: An Ordinary Spy

Some reviewers and blurbers have loved Joseph Weisberg's An Ordinary Spy ("In two words: a masterpiece," from Gary Shteyngart, author of Absurdistan.) A few others have not -- you can go find those reviews yourself.

One of my rules of life is: there are a whole lot of terrible books out there, but many, many books deserve a better shake and wider audience than they receive. An Ordinary Spy deserves attention and a chance. Its immediately noticeable gimmick is that pages in the finished book have passages blacked out, "redacted," as if this really were what the fictional premise holds, the memoir of a CIA agent. The pages look like this:
http://i142.photobucket.com/albums/r96/jfallows/IMG_5187.jpg



and even, as the climax to one joke, this:
http://i142.photobucket.com/albums/r96/jfallows/IMG_5190.jpg



I found this artifice, and the resulting guesses about what was left out, increasingly interesting as the book went on; some reviewers were bored or annoyed.

But the book's real point is conveying what the craft of spying is like -- now, with all we know about failures of intelligence and America's blundering in the world. Weisberg himself is a former CIA agent. Is his account realistic? Well, the CIA's former chief of counterintelligence says so:
An Ordinary Spy captures perfectly the spy world I lived in my whole career, how we talk, how we think, and how we operate. Joe gets it better than Clancy and is on a par with McCarry.

The McCarry here is of course the sainted Charles McCarry, former CIA agent and author of The Tears of Autumn and many subsequent Paul Christopher novels. (McCarry is a good friend of mine; I have met Weisberg only briefly but do know his wife and brother.)

I have my own minor criticism of one element of Ordinary Spy's finale, which for spoiler reasons I won't mention except to say that the more you've read of Dennis Lehane, the more you'll see what I have in mind. But overall I thought this was a very good book. To be put in Charles McCarry's company, for knowledge of spycraft and for narrative skill, is high praise -- and deserved, I think. Check it out.