Friday, January 12, 2018

Saving the Queen by William F. Buckley Jr.

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I am currently reading a spy novel by William F. Buckley Jr. 

Saving the Queen was his first foray into the world of fiction after founding the National Review magazine in which he wrote numerous columns asserting his conservative point of view and publishing several non-fiction books. 

This first novel was published in 1978 and takes place in the 1950s during the Cold War. The main character, Blackford Oakes, is a Yale graduate and is recruited by a friend for the CIA. His first assignment as a deep agent is to determine whether the Queen of England or one of her ministers is leaking information to the Russians about America's progress on creating a hydrogen bomb. 

If you know anything about Mr. Buckley (perhaps, as I do, you 
remember him interviewing public figures on his television show Firing Line), you will know that in his world if five words will
suffice, then twenty-five will be better. That erudition carries over into his writing although the reader doesn't have the benefit of hearing Mr. Buckley's unusual accent. Thank heavens for the Kindle dictionary which I have put to good use while reading this tale.

There are many real characters from the era who show up: Eisenhower, Truman, Churchill, Lindbergh, and Stalin. The Queen, however, is fictional. She is 31-year old Caroline who took the throne after her cousin, the reigning Queen, and her only sister were killed in an airplane crash. Queen Caroline is by far my favorite character: she appreciates the benefits of being Queen, is impatient with governmental bureaucracy, and is always on the side of her subjects. She is inquisitive, curious, and entirely unpredictable. The people love her.

I must admit I sort of glaze over the political chats that go on but that doesn't lessen my enjoyment. I do suspect I am missing wry references to certain events and ideologies. I am only a little over halfway through and am curious to see how this will turn out.

Mr. Buckley wrote eleven novels starring Blackford Oakes, a thoroughly smart, handsome, competent, and likable character. This is not a shoot-em-up-car-chase-high-tech spy yarn which suits me just fine. Mr. Buckley has created intricate back stories for his main characters and even a few for the ones we might only meet once. But that is just his way.

Now that Mr. Buckley has come into my world again, I am wanting to watch the documentary on Netflix, Best of Enemies, about his famous feud with Gore Vidal. I think they almost came to blows on live television!

A friend of mine who likes to keep up with what I am reading, wrote to me about seeing Mr. Buckley in person in the 1970s at a university event. To quote her email: "It was a lecture with questions afterward and I still remember how brilliant his vocabulary was. I was flushed with passion and wound up for about five days. Short little man, but brilliant, with bad, pitted skin. A wonderful brain and an extraordinary vocabulary. He spoke with no notes and I fell in love right then and there."

High praise indeed.

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 Mr. Buckley makes his point.

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