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Bewildering Stories

Lydia Crichton, Grains of Truth

reviewed by Danielle L. Parker

Grains of Truth
Author: Lydia Crichton
Publisher: Barringer, 2013
Length: 380 pages
ISBN: 978-0-9882034-9-5

One of the oldest and most-beloved plot devices in spy fiction is the hapless amateur caught up in the web of dirty espionage. Helen MacInnes, Eric Ambler, Charlotte Armstrong, Geoffrey Household and many others made gleeful misuse of the poor ordinary bloke in book after book.

Modern, more cynical spy novels tend to focus on professionals rather than such unlucky amateurs, but there’s no denying the now hoary old plot device worked. Nothing amps the tension like Mr. or Ms. Clueless up to his or her ears in a whirlwind of deceit and danger.

Julia Grant, the no-compromises heroine (and I do mean Heroine) of Grains of Truth, is another amateur who falls into the tar pit of espionage. James Jesus Angleton, though, rolled in his grave as Grains of Truth went to print. Emotionally volatile Julia is a fervent embracer of lost causes and lost people, an in-your-face peacenik and industrious pamphleteer, a confrontational do-gooder who makes lesser mortals slink for cover.

Espionage books tend to favor either the sleazy corruptible-on-the-spot or respectable-families-good-schools sorts for their amateurs. Not Julia. And I’ve known people exactly like her. I seem to remember smiling through my teeth as I congratulate their accomplishments and look covertly for the nearest escape.

Julia, of course, would never touch with a ten-foot pole an endeavor as despicable and warmongering as espionage. But unfortunately for her, she’s the wrong person at the right place and time. Having fallen for another lost cause during a previous trip to Egypt, that is, a poor married Muslim tour guide with soulful brown eyes and poetry in his heart (plus a good line in kisses), she’s got the perfect cover to do her country a service. And deep down, all her ferocious pacifism hides a secret love of adventure and highjinks...

The book was marred in the last third by the author’s urge to paint her increasingly unrealistic characters in broad heroic stripes. The simple but classic intercept-a-secret-message plot of the first two-thirds segues into a Magnificent Bit-More-Than-Seven menagerie trying to save brave abducted Julia from an Oxford-educated hunk-of-burning-love bad boy. (I’m inclined to agree with her friend’s conviction Julia needed a few good lays to take off the tension). Oh, the Magnificent Menagerie is trying to save Jerusalem from gas too, though that seems to be #2 on the agenda.

Well, Grains of Truth is a romantic romp for those who like heroes who charge to the rescue, rather than all-shades-of-gray cynical. Nothing wrong with that. Enjoy!

Copyright © 2014 by Danielle L. Parker

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