Monday, December 26, 2016

The Algonquin ProjectThe Algonquin Project by Frederick Nolan
My rating: 1 of 5 stars


A friend of mine whose judgment I value recommended Frederick Nolan's The Algonquin Project (known outside the US as The Oshawa Project) (1974) as the best political thriller he had ever read so despite my lack of interest in thrillers I was looking forward to reading the novel. Alas, either my friend played a practical joke on me or I confused the title with something else: Project is not a good book at all: its plot is formulaic and ridiculous at the same time, the characters are pure paper, and the author's insights into politics, military affairs, and the spy business seem to have been based on watching television shows and movies.

The plot begins in Berlin in the days immediately after the end of World War II as the military brass of the Allied Forces celebrate the victory over Germany. The four-star General Campion, the legendary victorious war hero and now the Military Governor of Bavaria, refuses to drink to the health of the Soviet officers because he expects that the allies for now will become enemies in the near future and that he will soon be fighting against "the Mongol bootmakers and Siberian potato farmers." Campion is obviously modeled on real-life General George S. Patton, also a "hated hero" and "an awesome legend", the commander often taken to "irrational outbursts" and unable to conform to the tactical meandering in politics. The real general Patton died in a car accident in 1945 and the basic premise of the novel is that there had been a conspiracy on high levels of the US government to eliminate the outspoken general whose inconvenient views interfered with political goals of the moment.

Sure, one can entertain conspiracy theories but Mr. Nolan's fantasy goes too far: for instance, the plot involves a government operative consulting with an imprisoned mobster as to the choice of an assassin to eliminate the general. So ridiculous that I forgot to laugh. In another visit to fantasyland we have a Spanish master handcrafting a one-of-a-kind rifle designed to kill the general. In addition to Salvatore Luciana, the all-powerful, all-knowing mobster, we meet President Truman, the infamous Kim Philby of the British intelligence, and - best of all - Lavrentii Beria, the Marshall of the Soviet Union and the head of the vast NKVD apparatus. We have killers and teams of counter-killers. The action structured in several parallel threads moves fast from the US and Canada, to Naples, Berlin, Munich, London, and even to Bletchley Park, which gives the author a pretext to teach the reader some basic principles of cryptography.

While one has to admit that the plot is interesting, its tenuous connection to even the most improbable of realities and the rather surprising naiveté in the depiction of special forces' work might perhaps work in a cheap TV series but certainly not in a supposedly good thriller. When I think about John le Carré's "Smiley series" with all its depth and authenticity, it is hard not to laugh at Mr. Nolan's plot.

One and a half stars.

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