Brian Freemantle was not a name I was familiar with, but the book–an old paperback from the seventies–was sitting, unloved, in my parents’ library, so I grabbed it and tossed it into my TBR pile. Eventually, The Inscrutable Charlie Muffin cycled through and I read it, not without some misgivings.
While I will be the first to admit that this isn’t exactly classic literature to rival The Great Gatsby for the title of the greatest book of the 20th century, I found it fun, fast-paced and refreshing. A kind of James Bond story with an anti-hero in the place of the polished secret agent.
The trick seems to be that it’s only about a couple of hundred pages long, enough to give us the good elements of a spy novel: danger, death, sex and betrayal, without the bloat that seems prevalent in all of today’s fiction. It’s unfortunate that the American public seems to enjoy buying its books by the pound–they’re missing out.
What it doesn’t have is beautiful, drawn out descriptions, fully fleshed out secondary characters aware that they are the hero of their own story or deep reflections of the condition of man.
It a whole heck of a lot better for it, and drives home the point that genre fiction seems to have lost its way over the past few decades. Readers aren’t drawn to a thriller of this sort to explore the inherent diversity of the modern world. Most people don’t consume science fiction to ponder the politics of the Western World (and that’s why, in an age when the highest grossing films are all mindless SF blowouts, the written SF genre is dying a slow death) and they don’t read murder mysteries to get an up-to-date moral treatise about the state of a post-truth world.
Unfortunately, critics don’t seem to understand any of the above, and attack novels who fail to pass their silly postmodern standards despite being perfectly good manifestations of their genre.
This is why I always try to pick up books–even ones I hadn’t heard of–from earlier eras. They remind us of what we’ve lost in this useless obsession with making everything literary. The humorless drones of postmodernism have managed to take all the fun out of… well out of everything.
Fortunately, despite attempts at revisionism, they are still far from succeeding in removing the old stuff from circulation, or sanitizing and applying revisionist theories to everything.
Here’s hoping they fail, and the old dinosaurs come back into vogue. If you’ve already read James Bond, then Charlies Muffin is a good place to continue!
Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine novelist and short story writer. His novel Incursion is an action packed romp that should remind you of what science fiction used to be… and that’s a good thing.