Countdown in Cairo by Noel Hynd
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I have just now finished this third in Noel Hynd's Russian Trilogy. It must be said that I have never read a trilogy so well conceived as such. Each book stands on its own, and yet reading all three lends depth and satisfaction to the whole.
At the beginning of Part II of this volume, Alex, the accidental master spy of the series, remembers how she got her start. A young student alone in Europe, she faced and mastered that most extreme form of self-reliance - away from home in alien surroundings but without even rudimentary experience. She'd had to trust and to judge and to master alien tongues and ways. She might have turned around, but random bits of luck enabled her not to. Others might have ignored them, or mistrusted potentially dangerous offers of help. She's a good reader of the people and signs around her.
What is a spy but someone who must, on pain of instant death, master all the subtle signals the rest of us can safely ignore as random happenings? Nothing is random when you are plotting against powerful people able to deploy armies against you. Everything can become a sign. Everything can have meaning. Nothing is as it seems - it's meant not to be.
And what is a spymaster - a writer of spy novels - if not someone who can convince the reader that his descriptions are trued to the actual goings on among those with decision making power over our own lives? As a Buffalo boy, Hynd almost lost me with his ham handed description of a terrorist border crossing near Buffalo, the impossibility for which would be obvious to anyone who bothered to consult a map. But nothing is as it seems, and I must forgive.
But of course, that minor lapse served mostly to highlight this good author's truest artistry; to get the reader to keep turning the pages, which happened for me all too quickly. The particulars gain your confidence for the larger scheme, and it, in turn, makes you want to know this protagonist's innermost workings. What will she do, how will she feel, why does she do it.
Of course, she doesn't really know. Neither does the author, who also writes to find out. Why would any of us put ourselves in harms way? Alex doesn't exactly buy even her own handlers' motives for deploying her the way that they do. They are automatically included among those she can't entirely trust. She is hardly a blind patriot. She is not a rote order taker.
But all of us are, in fact, in harms way all the time. The real question Alex sets out to answer is the one all of us really would rather not bother with, or have its answer handed to us somehow, stripped of doubt, stripped of ambiguity.
Why wouldn't you put yourself in harm's way, when the alternative is to play victim to life's meaningless impingements. Take the meaningless accidents of fate as they come, and leave meaning to some greater power. Why wouldn't you make something of your life? The same ending will come in any case.
I continue to marvel at how well Noel Hynd foregrounds that most fundamental matter; faith. Faith in oneself, in meaning; for him and for his protagonist apparently, faith in God. Alex finds in herself a capacity for love and for forgiveness, which must be strange to the reader, since she has been wronged and betrayed and has found man all too capable of betrayal of any confidence.
Except that she has read the signs well, and was never disappointed in her certainty that there was in fact meaning to it all. Not meaning as in conclusion, story lines tied up(although Hynd does that masterfully for each book, and especially for the trilogy) some answer revealed. But meaning as in living her own life to its fullest potential, exercising every one of her God-given talents and bits of good fortune in a way, if not to make the world a better place, certainly not to serve only herself; her aggrandizement here on earth.
She is not patient with those who would do otherwise. But she'd rather help them to wake up than to kill them. I'd rather read another of these books than to pick nits about what falls short. Well, I do have interesting thoughts about border crossings near Buffalo. Anyhow, if each of us were to make courageous decisions without mistrusting what we already know to be our morally correct instincts, the world really would be a better place. The pages would keep turning.
Imagine that! Me a fan of spy novels!
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