While I was wallowing in ennui last winter, I noticed a discrepancy between female authors versus male authors on my reading C.V. The truth of the matter is: I don’t read enough MAN books, i.e. books written by men for men. Armed with my library card and a steely determination to broaden my horizons, I ventured into MAN book territory. There will be blood! And gadgets, doo-hickeys, submarines, techno-jargon, and espionage involving the U.S.S.R. I can’t say that I was thrilled to embark on such a macho reading mission but I’ll be damned if I was going to shrink away from a chance to raise my testosterone level.
The Man from St. Petersburg contains 1) Russia 2) War time espionage 3) Doo-hickeys 4) Politics 5) A sly Winston Churchill. When I discovered that it took place in pre-WWI Britain and involved well-bred ladies and fancy balls, I crossed myself that this was MAN book lite and not hardcore Tom Clancy.
So the ‘Man’ in question is Feliks, a feral anarchist turned political assassin. His target is a Prince Orlov, the czar’s nephew. Prince Orlov is on super-secret assignment in England to sign a treaty binding Russia as England’s ally in the event of world war. If England fights, Russia fights. But that would mean the senseless slaughter of a million Russian peasants in a rich man’s war. Feliks does not approve! Solution: Prince Orlov must die!
What follows is so much action that it leaves my ass in traction. Feliks spends most of his time reconnoitering Orlov’s haunts, taking ‘eye photographs’ of his adversaries, strategizing the best way to snuff out his target, stealing bicycles, and clobbering people over the head with large blunt objects. There’s also rooftop chases aimed gunfire from policeman who can’t shoot straight. In one instance, Feliks pitches a bomb at the police and everyone kind of stares in wide-eye terror as the bomb sails in slow motion until someone catches the bomb and scores one for the good guys. High fives all around!
While this book thrilled me in ways I never though I could be thrilled, I do have beef with Follett’s portrayal of female characters in that they were wussies and performed such cringe-worthy actions as balling their hands into fists and biting their fists. No woman would do such a thing. When I’m upset, I crack my knuckles and punch a clown. When saddened, I square my shoulders, stand up tall, and stare off into the distance like any strong woman would do in times of sorrow. I do not, nor have I ever, bite my fist and throw a hissy fit over my empty laudanum bottle. I think I speak for my gender when I say: WTF, Follett? WTF indeed.