Audible Fan, Amazon Customer, Gardener, Quilter, Liberal and Activist. I'll read about anything!
Published almost 15 years ago, and I had thought it was older actually, "The Charm School" has brought back, to me, a very scary time of realistic fear of communism and how being accused of being a 'red' could have an effect on ones ability to keep a job in the growing aerospace industry as well as the new technology industry.
The concept behind the book is frightening, when relating back to those days...the thought of faux 'real' americans, who are actually 'Commis" Russians trained by POW's, moving up in political and industrial and legal positions in the US, placed there to undermine the country. I enjoyed the sly ways that some of the POWs were underming the training they were supposed to give, by teaching incorrect slang especially.
Nelson DcMille writes an exciting novel, no matter what subject he takes on. This one is areal original and I very much enjoyed how he placed the vietnam POW's in the position of having to go along or lose everything. How the new people coming int the charm school changes the dynamics of the place and how people who have become pacified with their position change their minds when confronted with what they are really contributing to.
I enjoyed it very much and recommend it if you like older style political books.
I have listened to all of Nelson DeMille's books that audible has and I've read others in print. I have to say, this book had real potential and then went absolutely nowhere. This is the first book I've actually fast forwarded through. Also, I used to love listening to Scott Brick but he's really wearing on me. Far too dramatic. There were times where he may have been reading a non-dramatic sentence but read it with such thrust and drama that I was becoming annoyed.
This book could have been cut in half and it might have been better. The xenophobia was over the top in this one. Bad, bad Russia -- enough already! We get it! Overall, I was very disappointed.
I know a lot of you love Scott Brick as a narrator, and I will give him credit for his Russian. That being said, I find his sing-song narrating obnoxious. There! I said it!
The story is excellent. The performance, however, is of a low standard. The reader mispronounces even common Russian names, such as Gogol. Most disconcerting is that everyone in the story, even Russians, have some kind of New York/New Jersey intonation, where the last part of the sentence rises in pitch. This is distracting, to the point where this listener had to laugh out loud at times.
I am a blind lawyer and aspiring writer, trying to read a little bit of everything but partial to sci-fi and military fiction.
In his interview with Scott Brick at the end of The Lion, DeMille notes that one of the perils of writing ripped from the headlines fiction is that the headlines can change in the time it takes between outline and publication. Specifically, he says many authors were caught with partially completed Cold War thrillers as the Soviet Union rather suddenly ceased to exist. He dodged that particular bullet though and the result is that we are lucky to have this wonderful little tale combining many of the Cold War thriller tropes including abandoned POWs, horrid conditions in the USSR, morally ambiguous or downright bad actors within US intelligence, and the choice between doing the right thing and preserving the peace, into a sort of time capsule.
Readers familiar with DeMille's work will recognize the basic cast of characters: the guy and girl at the center of it all who are in over their heads by varying degrees, the CIA contact with questionable motives, the government mouthpiece only interested in preserving the status quo, and the bad guy who skulks around the shadows for a while before revealing himself and becoming a real pain to our heroes. What is different is that the attractive and plucky female lead this time around is far more ill-equipped to deal with the running and gunning than examples in later DeMille works. The hero of the story is to type though, ready to fling sarcastic asides and bullets in the bad guys' faces at a moment's notice.
The plot launches with satisfying swiftness, perhaps jarringly so, but may ware on people later as many later sequences involve a cycle of action and reporting to others that can get repetitive. There also quite a few, "but do they know that we know X" moments rehashing things in the characters' minds perhaps realistically, but not always enjoyably.
The tone of the book is classic DeMille, with plenty of atmospheric details that really help put the reader in late 1980's Moscow. The flow is also very engaging, and can go from absurdly ffunny to utterly depressing in the same breath. And even those scenes in which characters discuss their plight and speculate incessantly on what to do next are full of colorful little details, like eavesdropping countermeasures or the unique social dynamics of an American embassy in a communist state.
All in all, this story holds up now not as a tale of what could be but what might have been, with the end of the Cold War far from certain even in 1988, and people asking themselves "What would THEY do to avoid World War III?"
I love Nelson DeMille, but I'd have probably never read him again if I'd picked this book up in the late 80s, when it was written. The writing, as always, is good, and the basic plotting and layout of the story is solid. But the premise is an odd mixture of banal and unbelievable, the characters are two dimensional at their best, and the whole thing is so one-sided it could have been written by the Reagan State Department.
The book is set in Soviet Russia, and starts out well, recreating the constant tensions of a police state masterfully. The plotting and scene development is good. But the book gets mushy as it goes along. Relationships seem inexplicable and out-of-character, actions make no real sense, and the constant repetition of the "evil Soviet/perfect America" motif would have even Reagan shaking his head and muttering "come on!" Don't get me wrong, I'm not defending the Soviet Union, but the book never meets an idealist Communist, never meets a non-virtuous peasant, or a smart peasant, etc. They are all simplistic caricatures, and that weakens the story.
The hero murders people, then never sees an irony as he condemns the Soviet bad guys for killing people with pretty much the same justification. The heroine continually touts her own superior morality, but justifies anything she wants to, nonetheless. She has a deep religious belief that comes and goes as the story requires. The inconsistency, not the belief, is distracting.
Even so, DeMille's storytelling works well enough to overcome these flaws through the first half of the book. At some point, though, it just starts losing believability, devolving into the cliche of politicians working against soldiers and spies, and the story gets mechanical. Great ethical questions are asked, then forgotten. It just fatally loses focus, despite the promise at the beginning.
I liked it at the beginning, but by the end I wished I had skipped it. It was unfulfilling by DeMille standards.
I liked this book. Went into it unsure but found myself not wanting to get out of the car. Will look for another Nelson DeMille book now.
The title is misleading, but when reading the story you will know why it is named as such. I liked the book! The author took me to Russia with his words. I liked the descriptions and details. I could visualize each character and the story pulls you in as the plot thickens. I enjoyed the interaction of the characters in the book. A good guy versus bad guy story. Nelson DeMille is a very talented writer and Scott Brick is a very talented narrator (as always)!
I love espionage, legal, and detective thrillers but listen to most genres. Very frequent reviews. No plot spoilers! Please excuse my typos!
The Charm School, published in 1988, is set entirely in Russia where a tourist from the US stumbles upon a secret spy school called The Charm School. It is a wonderful suspense thriller with twists and turns that keep the reader guessing. Even at 25 hours in length it keeps the readers' attention. There are no narrators better than Scott Brick. VERY HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!!
My title says it all. His books start fast and stay fast. This one will keep you on the edge of your seat for sure. What amazes me is that all his books are different, not just similar plots warmed over.