McCarry, Charles 1930-
McCarry, Charles 1930-
Born June 14, 1930, in Pittsfield, MA; son of Albert (a farmer) and Madeleine McCarry; married Nancy Neill, September 12, 1953; children: four sons. Hobbies and other interests: Cooking.
Journalist, writer, and secret agent. Worked as an agent for the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Lisbon Evening Journal, Lisbon, OH, editor and reporter, 1952-55; Youngstown Vindicator, Youngstown, OH, reporter and columnist, 1955-56; assistant to Secretary of Labor, Washington, DC, 1956-57; worked for CIA, 1958-67; freelance writer and journalist, 1967-83; National Geographic, editor-at-large, 1983-90. Military service: U.S. Army, 1948-51.
The Cosmos Club (Washington, DC).
Los Angeles Times Book Award nomination for mystery/thriller, 2004, for Old Boys.
The Miernik Dossier, Saturday Review Press (New York, NY), 1973.
The Tears of Autumn, Saturday Review Press (New York, NY), 1975, Overlook Press (Woodstock, NY), 2005.
The Secret Lovers, Dutton (New York, NY), 1977.
The Better Angels, Dutton (New York, NY), 1979.
The Last Supper, Dutton (New York, NY), 1983, reprinted, Overlook Press (Woodstock, NY), 2006.
The Bride of the Wilderness, New American Library (New York, NY), 1988.
Second Sight, Dutton (New York, NY), 1991.
Shelley's Heart, Random House (New York, NY), 1995.
Lucky Bastard, Random House (New York, NY), 1998.
Old Boys, Overlook Press (Woodstock, NY), 2004.
Christopher's Ghosts, Overlook Press (Woodstock, NY), 2007.
Novels have been translated into more than twenty languages.
Citizen Nader (biography), Saturday Review Press (New York, NY), 1972.
(With Ben Abruzzo, Maxie Anderson, and Larry Newman) Double Eagle, Little, Brown (New York, NY), 1979.
(Coauthor) Isles of the Caribbean, National Geographic Society (Washington, DC), 1979.
The Great Southwest, National Geographic Society (Washington, DC), 1980.
(With Alexander M. Haig, Jr.) Caveat: Realism, Reagan, and Foreign Policy, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1983.
(With Alexander M. Haig, Jr.) Inner Circles: How America Changed the World, Warner Books (New York, NY), 1992.
(Editor) From the Field: A Collection of Writings from National Geographic, National Geographic Society (Washington, DC), 1997.
Contributor of about one hundred stories and articles to magazines, including Saturday Evening Post, Life, National Geographic, Esquire, Saturday Review, and True.
Charles McCarry draws on both his experience as a reporter and his experience with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to create insightful nonfiction accounts and suspenseful espionage novels. Among McCarry's works of nonfiction are his biography of government watchdog Ralph Nader, Citizen Nader, and his account of the voyage of the first three men to cross the Atlantic in a free balloon, Double Eagle. McCarry, however, is perhaps best known for his intricately plotted spy novels featuring CIA agent Paul Christopher. Praising McCarry's novels in Armchair Detective, Otto Penzler maintained: "For technical brilliance of plotting, combined with the brilliant achievements of characterization in a poetic composition of style that can wrench gasps of amazement from the reader, the work of Charles McCarry stands alone among the myriad American practitioners of that most difficult category of storytelling—the believable spy novel."
Before his subsequent success in the fiction genre, McCarry began his writing career with the biography Citizen Nader. Nader, one of the best-known public reformers of this century, has been expected to falter from the minute he burst on the Washington scene. This prophecy has yet to come true, and in Citizen Nader McCarry puts "together an interesting narrative of Nader's background, his rise to prominence, his forays into various issues, and the evolution of his thinking," according to Elizabeth Drew in the New York Times Book Review. "McCarry catches a good bit about Nader the human being that seems to have eluded many who write about him: the sense of humor, the somewhat childlike quality that arouses affection and protectiveness in his friends and associates, the intensity, the insatiable appetite for sheer information." A Times Literary Supplement contributor found McCarry's account to be a bit shapeless because of its journalistic style but conceded that "he has painted a vivid picture of Ralph Nader, his career and his associates, which provides a very good basis for consideration of an extraordinary phenomenon."
Another of McCarry's forays into nonfiction, Double Eagle tells the tale of three men who became the first to cross the Atlantic in a balloon. Based on tapes recorded by the participants during the flight, interviews, library research, and technical data, the narrative manages to be suspenseful even though the result of the adventure is already known. "This description of the first successful balloon-crossing of the Atlantic Ocean is a riveting affair—a remarkable achievement considering that we know the outcome before we begin," wrote Jeff Greenfield in the New York Times Book Review. Macdonald Harris, writing in the Times Literary Supplement, pointed out that the personalities of all involved in the accomplishment are well depicted, and asserted: "Double Eagle does tell a beautiful story."
The stories McCarry has told since Double Eagle are also riveting and suspenseful, but the endings are far from being known. These are the novels that feature CIA agent and poet Paul Christopher, as well as many other spies and government officials. Christopher is introduced in McCarry's 1979 The Miernik Dossier, a story that is told in the form of a dossier, including reports, intercepted letters, written communication, and bugged telephone conversations. Newgate Callendar, writing in the New York Times Book Review, called The Miernik Dossier "a fast-moving tale of Byzantine intrigue," and Penzler found it to be "an innovative novel."
The Tears of Autumn, McCarry's second thriller, has Christopher delving into the events surrounding President John F. Kennedy's assassination. A specialist in Vietnamese affairs, Christopher discovers a link between the killings of Ngo Dinh Diem and Ngo Dinh Nhu in Saigon and Kennedy's subsequent death. The assassination is portrayed as a revenge killing—blood for blood. "It is a clever idea, and McCarry makes the most of it," asserted Callendar in his review of The Tears of Autumn. Once Christopher realizes that the most prominent members of the administration were inadvertently responsible for Kennedy's death, he is forbidden to continue his investigation. He resigns, only to become hunted by both the assassins and his own government. "This absolutely first-rate thriller is an irresistibly plausible speculation into the real motives for Kennedy's murder," maintained a Library Journal contributor.
In his third adventure, The Secret Lovers, Christopher is a witness to the killing of a Russian courier who is carrying what may be a very damaging piece of literature for the regime. Now that they have the book in their possession, the American agents must decide whether to follow the author's request to delay publishing until after his death, or print it regardless of the consequences. Also attempting to discover who tried to stop the operation, the agents find themselves following a plot that twists and turns all the way back to the Spanish Civil War. In addition to this complex case, Christopher is also struggling to hold his unraveling marriage together. The Secret Lovers "is well written, well observed and warmed by attractive characters," pointed out Anatole Broyard in the New York Times Book Review. Publishers Weekly contributor Barbara A. Bannon observed that McCarry "writes about the innermost workings of American intelligence operations with a cool expertise."
The Last Supper, published in 1983, and Second Sight, published in 1991, also center on the activities of Paul Christopher. The Last Supper contains the ingredients of McCarry's usual spy thriller, but the novel adds elements of family saga as Christopher traces the history of a secret American intelligence group calling itself the Outfit. The trail leads all the way from Nazi Germany to the present time. "The Last Supper is a giant maze through which the reader is led by a guide who knows every inch of the apparently hostile and shifting territory," wrote Penzler. In what McCarry deems to be Christopher's last adventure, Second Sight, the agent is brought out of retirement to stop an attempt by outsiders to learn vital agency secrets. Zarah, Christopher's long-lost daughter, is along for this adventure—the same organization threatening the Outfit's security is also threatening the band of Jewish nomads who raised her. "A marvelously drawn cast of characters join forces against evil in this compulsive page turner," wrote Bettie Spivey Cormier in Library Journal.
McCarry's 1988 novel The Bride of the Wilderness greatly deviates from his spy thrillers. The various settings of this saga include eighteenth-century London and New England, and there is a heroine instead of the usual hero. Fanny Harding, who manages to master anything she is exposed to, leaves England behind for an epic adventure in America. Surrounded by many other heroic figures, she constantly moves into new and alien worlds, including that of the Abenaki Indians—a seemingly savage tribe. "Skillfully using an omniscient narrative voice, McCarry moves us cleanly back and forth in time," explained Orson Scott Card in the Washington Post Book World, adding that "there are more stories told in this one book than most writers tell in a career." Also pointing out McCarry's shameless use of romance archetypes, Card noted: "I never believed the characters for a moment—but I loved them, I lived their lives with them, and I will never forget the time I spent in their world."
One decade later, McCarry published Lucky Bastard, which a reviewer for the Economist called "an entertaining new comedy-thriller, [featuring] a distinctly Clintonesque politician who believes that he is Jack Kennedy's illegitimate son." In a truly Cold War twist, the politician, Jack Adams, is secretly a KGB agent who was approached by the organization while he was in college and supported so that he could build the type of lifestyle and career that would allow him to run for president. While taking public criticism for his sexual escapades and having dodged the draft, Adams's popularity keeps him on track toward the White House. John J. Miller, reviewing the book for the National Review remarked, "McCarry is a veteran spy novelist whose work … breaks the conventions of its genre and aspires to serious literary fiction."
After the release of Lucky Bastard, McCarry lived in semiretirement. A Kirkus Reviews contributor reported that Peter Mayer, the publisher heading Overlook Press, stated: "I found out that [McCarry] was living up in Massachusetts and so I drove my car all the way up to Massachusetts and I told him why he was a wonderful writer and why he should be writing again." Shortly thereafter, Old Boys was published. The novel's plot begins with the disappearance of agent Paul Christopher, who has also retired. His family receives news that his body has been found in a Chinese prison. His cousin, also a former agent, suspects Christopher may be alive and gathers a group of agents to begin the hunt to find him. In his review for Spectator, Michael Carlson wrote: "Certainly McCarry has lost none of his fire, and there are enough sparks of the old Christopher magic to make one long for the glorious days of the Cold War."
In a 2004 interview with Robert Birnbaum on the Morning News Web site, McCarry speaks about his years as an undercover agent for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) while he used his career as a journalist as a cover for his clandestine activities. He also explains how he came to return to the character of Paul Christopher and write Old Boys, noting: "My experience in the past is that my characters, Christopher in particular—I don't bring them back until they come knocking on the door. And Christopher arrives with a new story to tell and new friends and new members of the family."
In his 2007 book, Christopher's Ghosts, McCarry looks at the early life career of Christopher, beginning in Berlin in 1939. Christopher, who is sixteen years old at the time, finds his American father and German mother rebelling against the Nazis while remaining sympathetic to the Jews. Paul falls in love with a young Jewish woman and is harassed by a German SS officer. War begins and Paul escapes, but his young lover is doomed. Twenty years later, Paul is a young CIA operative who sets out to settle the score with the now ex-Nazi officer, who has been recruited by the Soviets to train their Arab allies.
"At its best, a thriller can do (at least) three things rather well," wrote Michael Allen on the Grumpy Old Bookman Web site. "It can provide an enthralling story about people whose fate the reader comes to care about; it can give us insights into times and places other than our own; and it can provoke thought." Allen added: "As you would expect, Christopher's Ghosts does all of these supremely well." Other reviewers also had high praise for Christopher's Ghosts. A Publishers Weekly contributor commented: "Veteran McCarry … remains a compelling storyteller." Jonathan Pearce, writing in the Library Journal, noted that "the prose is elegantly literate, the plot unfolds clearly, [and] the characters are drawn in satisfying detail."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American West, November 1, 1982, review of The Great Southwest, p. 73.
Armchair Detective, summer, 1989, Otto Penzler, reviews of The Better Angels, The Bride of the Wilderness, The Last Supper, The Mirenik Dossier, The Secret Lovers, and The Tears of Autumn, pp. 272-73.
Booklist, May 15, 1995, Gilbert Taylor, review of Shelley's Heart, p. 1634; October 15, 1997, Gilbert Taylor, review of From the Field: A Collection of Writings from National Geographic, p. 381; October 15, 1998, Mary Carroll, review of Lucky Bastard, p. 397.
Christian Science Monitor, July 27, 1995, Michele Ross, review of Shelley's Heart, p. 1.
Economist, September 19, 1998, review of Lucky Bastard, p. 99.
Entertainment Weekly, June 2, 1995, Tom De Haven, review of Shelley's Heart, p. 51.
Houston Chronicle, August 17, 2007, Sam Allis, "The Thrill Is Gone," review of Christopher's Ghosts.
Kirkus Reviews, December 15, 2004, review of Old Boys, p. S6; March 15, 2007, review of Christopher's Ghosts.
Library Journal, January 1, 1975, review of The Tears of Autumn, p. 67; June 1, 1991, Bettie Spivey Cormier, review of Second Sight, p. 194; May 15, 1995, Charles Michaud, review of Shelley's Heart, p. 96; November 15, 1997, Wilda Williams, review of From the Field, p. 63; September 1, 2000, review of Shelley's Heart, p. 284; February 1, 2005, Michael Rogers, review of The Tears of Autumn, p. 126; April 1, 2007, Jonathan Pearce, review of Christopher's Ghosts, p. 82.
National Review, August 17, 1998, John J. Miller, review of Lucky Bastard, p. 43.
New York Review of Books, July 13, 1995, Christopher Hitchens, review of Shelley's Heart, p. 42.
New York Times Book Review, March 19, 1972, Elizabeth Drew, review of Citizen Nader, pp. 7, 10, 12; July 8, 1973, Newgate Callendar, review The Miernik Dossier, p. 26; March 23, 1975, Newgate Callendar, review of The Tears of Autumn, p. 35; May 1, 1977, Anatole Broyard, review of The Secret Lovers, p. 12; September 16, 1979, Jeff Greenfield, review of Double Eagle, p. 18; November 1, 1992, Alan Tonelson, review of Inner Circles: How America Changed the World, p. 9.
Publishers Weekly, March 7, 1977, p. 90, Barbara A. Bannon, review of The Secret Lovers; April 10, 1995, review of Shelley's Heart, p. 53; October 27, 1997, review of From the Field, p. 68; May 3, 2004, review of Old Boys, p. 169; March 12, 2007, review of Christopher's Ghosts, p. 37.
School Library Journal, September, 1981, Nancy Chapin, review of The Great Southwest, p. 147.
Spectator, September 18, 2004, Michael Carlson, "Reheating the Cold War," review of Old Boys, p. 56.
Tapei Times, May 20, 2007, Steve Bennett, "Charles McCarry's Spook Tackles His Final Cold War Assignments," review of Christopher's Ghosts.
Times Literary Supplement, April 27, 1973, review of Citizen Nader, p. 463; June 13, 1980, Macdonald Harris, review of Double Eagle.
Tribune Books, July 9, 1995, review of Shelley's Heart, p. 3.
Wall Street Journal Western Edition, January 13, 1993, Fred C. Ikle, review of Inner Circles, p. 12.
Washington Post Book World, August 7, 1988, Orson Scott Card, review of The Bride of the Wilderness, pp. 1-2.
Grumpy Old Bookman,http://grumpyoldbookman.blogspot.com/ (May 30, 2007), Michael Allen, review of Christopher's Ghosts.
Metroactive,http://www.metroactive.com/ (August 14, 1997), Morton Marcus, "Beyond Bond," profile of author.
Morning News,http://www.themorningnews.org/ (August 9, 2004), Robert Birnbaum, "Birnbaum v. Charles McCarry," interview with author.
Pulp Rack,http://pulprack.com/ (September 6, 2007), Duane Spurlock, review of Christopher's Ghosts.
Scribe Publications Web site,http://www.scribepublications.com.au/ (November 14, 2007), brief profile of author.