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Betrayal Paper Chase

May 5, 2014

Felonies of the Week: Two Books in the Key of Betrayal

The theme of the day is betrayal, and for a number of reasons. First is the recent release of A Spy Among Friends, a new biography of Kim Philby – who, you might say, knew a thing or two about treachery. John Banville wrote an awfully interesting review in the Guardian.

Second is my recent trips to the theater, both of which, as it happens, concerned betrayal. First up was Harvey Fierstein’s new play, Casa Valentina, in which a group of men who already spend their entire waking lives wearing masks are revealed in fact to be concealing multiple layers of identity. This isn’t even a pocket review, but I will say that the play was considerably more interesting and nuanced than I had expected, and worth seeing.

More to the betray-ish point: A new production of The Threepenny Opera, that wound up being a double-betrayal ballet. The play itself, of course, hinges on betrayal: Not only is the character of Macheath (Mack the Knife) based on the gentleman who literally invented the double-cross, but he gets his comeuppance courtesy of a lady who leaves Mackie’s bed to shop him to the cops, in exchange for…that’d be telling. Grim as it is (and it is), it’s one of my very favorite pieces of musical theater, so I felt almost personally betrayed by Martha Clarke’s production, which made it very clear that Ms. Clarke was all about creating startling stage pictures to illustrate her familiar passion for the intersection of sex and death, and had virtually no interest in the text or the music. The stage-pictures were SOMETHIN’ – you haven’t lived till you’ve seen an opening musical number accompanied by a live bulldog chewing on the leg of an apparently dead human sprawled face-down at center-stage – but the bits in between, where the actors had to actually speak and sing, were a mess.

And finally, when it comes to betrayal, J’accuse spring. It keeps teasing us – here a day of gorgeous, take-your-coat-off weather, there a glorious explosion of yellow crocuses and scarlet tulips fringing Riverside Park – but the minute we pull out the summer sandals, the temperature drops and (in New York, at least) the radiators start clanking again. I look out the window, the sun is shining, I go outside in a tee-shirt, and am greeted – ha ha ha, how terribly amusing! – by an arctic blast off the Hudson, and the sure knowledge that if I want to walk two blocks to the subway, I will either go back upstairs and get my coat or turn blue before I hit 96th Street. Adding to the hilarity is the certain knowledge that any minute now we’ll be catapulted in July, when New York fires up its annual imitation of Mumbai. It’s all just killingly funny. Mother Nature must be busting a gut laughing.

How does this all relate to a discounted book? Well, we do publish a stunning little number that’s actually called Betrayal, by the Edgar-nominated Karin Alvtegen. The Telegraph, in England, called it “brilliant,” and another reviewer said it was “one of the creepiest books I have ever read (in a good way).” If that makes it sound like a thriller, I’ve described it badly: Betrayal is actually a meticulously observed tale of two people who are being poisoned by the realization that everything they had known about their happy, loving lives has been a lie. Take a cheap chance on it: You won’t be disappointed.

If you prefer your treachery leavened with snorts of laughter, try the delicious Paper Chase, by Bob Cook, in which four old geezers decide to write their memoires, detailing their glory days on Her Majesty’s Secret Service. In fact, the days weren’t all that glorious, so they embellish a little, just around the edges; who’s to know? Her Majesty’s Government, for starters, and it is Not Amused.

So, cold fingers slithering up your spine? Or tickling your funny bone? It’s all treacherous and, this week only, it’s on sale.

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