Hawkeye: My Life As A Weapon – Matt Fraction, David Aja, Javier Pulido
As you know, if you follow along with these posts faithfully, I like to give graphic novels a try a couple times each year. In this case, I went with the trade paperback of a comic series I’ve heard praised in many places. Hawkeye was supposed to be the comic book for people who don’t read comic books. It was rumored to be full of interesting pop culture references, sharp-witted humor, and a deeper story line that was is typically found in comics.

So I gave it a shot.

And, as often happens, I was disappointed. It’s not that it was a bad series, not at all. I suppose I’m finally realizing that like science fiction and fantasy novels, I’m more interested in the promise of graphic novels and comics than the actual execution of them. I suppose I crave a more detailed and developed story than one that is rendered mostly via artwork over 30 pages or so.

Perhaps if I had actually read comics as a kid I would get it more as an adult.

Shibumi – Trevanian
This has been on my To Read list for a couple years. I think because I wanted to read Don Winslow’s Satori, which is based on it. So I guess I can finally get to it now.

This was published in 1979 and is, in a way, a parody of classic spy novels. That’s not to say it’s silly or comic. Rather, it mimics some of the structures and archetypes found in the works of Ian Fleming, among others. And it’s pretty wacky.

The main character, Nicholai Hel, is the world’s greatest assassin, and perhaps the finest caver in the world as well. We learn his complex life story in between segments detailing efforts by the Mother Company, the secret organization that, along with OPEC, controls the world’s political and economic systems, to track Hel down and eliminate him.

As I said, it’s wacky. It feels rather dated. I had a hard time figuring out whether certain sections were mocking the classic spy novel structure or simply mirroring them for effect. Despite often being listed as one of the best spy novels ever, I don’t know that I loved it.

A Death In Vienna – Daniel Silva
Book four in the Gabriel Allon series. Picking up on some of the action in book two, Allon is again searching through the modern remnants of World War II in modern Europe. This time he’s chasing an elderly Austrian businessman believed to have been an SS commander at Nazi death camps. The man also just happens to have an illegitimate son who is on the verge of winning election as a right wing candidate for Prime Minister. Along the way Allon must dodge an assassin sent to take him out before he can unveil the truth. Good, clean fun that takes a couple nights to read.

The Way Of The Knife – Mark Mazzetti
Another that’s been on the list for some time. Mazzetti examines the drastic changes that have taken place in the US intelligence and military since 9/11, specifically how both Presidents Bush and Obama have increasingly used the CIA to fight wars, often through contractors and the use of drones, while the military has been used more and more to collect intelligence. In other words, the intelligence community has done a lot of the fighting and the military has done a lot of the snooping.

It’s an interesting book, and one that continues to pound home the idea that, for good or bad, it keeps getting easier for presidents to engage in armed actions in other countries. With the rise of drone warfare and the use of CIA operatives, who can hide behind executive orders and Justice Department opinions, presidents can fight hot wars without ever having to order large scale mobilizations of troops or even warn Congress.

Which gets to one of the major issues presented by the War on Terror. Taking out Taliban commanders in Afghanistan or their enablers in Pakistan may be popular and (mostly) legal. But what happens when we begin doing it in Yemen or Somalia? Or the next country where the President and his advisors see a threat to the US but that regular citizens know nothing about? And, given that presidents, of both parties, never give up powers that their predecessors have claimed, what are appropriate limits to place on these powers before we go too far with them?

Those are good, and important, questions to ponder. But the book kind of drove me crazy in how it is organized. It doesn’t move steadily from the development of the drone program before 9/11, through the war in Afghanistan, then onto Pakistan and other actions. It jumps around, both in time and location.

But it is an important book. It’s another opportunity to examine the things we’re giving up in order to maintain our current way of life.