Sweet Tooth: A Novel

While You're Waiting for David Baldacci's The Hit

If you're getting antsy for your copy of The Hit to arrive, don't fret, we have some other titles that will entertain you with spies, assassins, and fast-moving fiction. In The Hit--second in the Will Robie series after The Innocent--the U.S. government has hired Robie to track down a fellow assassin who has gone rogue, but in the process of searching for her, he finds some information about immanent threats that would prove very deadly should they occur.

Here are a few suspenseful, plot-driven novels that might keep you biting your nails and imagining dark scenarios while you wait for Baldacci's latest page-turner:

The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown.  If you like reading about cryptographers, mysterious secrets, and obscure organizations, try this one. The hero goes to D.C. to give a speech where he discovers that a good friend has been abducted. Follow him as he solves complex puzzles as he searches for his friend.

Lethal by Sandra Brown. There are easier people to run from them the FBI. But when suspected murderer Lee Coburn visits Honor Gillette to find an object left behind by her late husband, Honor and Lee fight a web of corruption to find answers. This fast moving plot involves the trafficking of guns, drugs, and girls. And yes, a romance develops between Lee and Honor. Who can resist steely blue eyes?

The Affair by Lee Child. This is actually number 16 in the Jack Reacher series, but since it's a prequel you can read it first.  Reacher, the undercover half of a military cop team, has been assigned to investigate a crime that occurred in Carter Crossing, Mississippi. He's investigating the murder of a woman whose throat was cut, a trademark killing method of the US Rangers. What happens during this gig turns Reacher away from his military career. It's a memory book in which the hero relives his own past and notices how he got to be the Jack Reacher of today.

Nano by Robin Cook. On her year off from medical school, Pia Grazdani takes a job at Nanobots, a company involved in researching nanotechnology. She's warned not to research any other projects. After rescuing a man while jogging, she's shocked to find that he has been transferred from the cardiac unit to Nanobots, so Pia must enter an off-limits building to discover what is being hidden.

Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan. It's 1970s Britain, a world of drugs, rock and roll, second-wave feminism, and go-go dancing. Serna Frome, a compulsive novel reader, secures an entry-level job for a top-notch British spy agency. The agency is on a quest to involve talented authors in their mission. Serna meets one. They begin a love affair even though Serna is spying on the man. Despite their growing intimacy, she pretends to have another job. A slower-paced, but richly rewarding look at spying from a woman's point of view.

The Third Bullet by Stephen Hunter. Bob Lee Swagger was only seventeen when JFK was assassinated, but now as an old man, he has an opportunity to involve himself deeply in research about Kennedy's death. A woman who wrote a new book about that day in November has been killed, so Swagger jumps to the chase. He's nearly killed himself. A different take on a topic that has long fascinated Americans.

Deadlock by Iris Johansen. Set mostly in Afghanistan and Russia, an archaeologist, Emily Hudson, tries to rescue important Russian antiquities from a war zone but is nearly killed in a massacre. Spy John Garrett who works for the CIA comes to her rescue.  This plot of international intrigue also features a romance between the two main characters and a look at Russian art from the time of the Romanovs.




Of Spies and Literature

Do you like spy novels? Ones that mix in politics and love?  If so McEwan's Sweet Tooth is for you.

It's set in the rollicking early 70s in England - a time of drugs, rock and roll, miniskirts, and--on a more serious note--women's entry into careers en masse. It tells the story of Selena, a bright vicar's daughter who loves to read and read fast.  Her mother, in the only moment of life- dissatisfaction she's ever expressed to her daughter, advises Selena to go to Cambridge and study math so she can have a challenging career. Selena, being the good older daughter, follows her mom's advice and gives up studying literature for something better career-wise.

But Selena's real education begins the summer after college.  An older tutor she meets through a boyfriend soon becomes her lover. In the process he teaches her about food, wine, politics, international relations, and how to read the newspapers for hidden facts and government policies. He's grooming her for a role in M15, the spy service.  But then Tony leaves her abruptly after an argument so Selena goes to London and does find a job with M15.

But because she is a woman, her career starts in the lowly typing pool alongside the brightest women in England.  One night she discovers that her room in a bedsit has been broken into and her things examined. The change is subtle, barely noticeable in her neatly arranged piles of 245 books - one bookmark has been set down out of place. Soon afterwards, Selena's reading comes in good stead for her job - she is offered a role in "Sweet Tooth" - a program funded by the government to pay writers to write. They assign her to the work of T.H. Haley, a new author only published in literary journals.

And of course Selena and T.H. or Tom fall in love.  Every weekend Selena joins him in Brighton where they share long talks, beach walks, great seafood and sex.   Even as they move closer emotionally, Selena cannot bring herself to tell Tom the truth about her job or their original connection.

McEwan spins his spy story around complicated human relationships.  It's delightful how he weaves in international events: the 70s oil crises, the beginnings of individual terrorism, mostly in Northern Ireland, changes in East Germany and Russia. He also tells the story from a woman's point of view in a totally believable manner.  Several of McEwan's novels have hit the big screen - I can see this one appearing soon with Selena played by a sultry Scarlett Johansson.

But this is so much more than a spy novel, it's a novel about ideas, conversations, writing and knowing--architecturally crafted, and full of deep emotions that simmer underneath before bubbling to the surface. How magically McEwan has spun his web.

For a nonfiction book that McEwan used as a model for this one, try Operation Mincemeat: How a Dead Man and a Bizarre Plan Fooled the Nazis and Assured Victory by Ben McIntyre. It tells the story of a very successful imaginative spy intervention designed by novelists and soon-to-be-novelist Ian Fleming during World War II.