introducing readers to writers since 1995

December 23, 2004

Larry J. Kolb's Holiday Gift Suggestion

by Ron Hogan

kolb.jpgLarry J. Kolb is the author of Overworld, a real-life thriller from a self-described "reluctant spy" who out-Zeligs Zelig. "It's awfully tempting to consider him a hoaxster à la Chuck Barris," I told PW readers a few months ago, "but all it takes is a little online research to produce corroborating details." That's right: as far as I can tell, everything that can be checked out checks out, so if you thrill to the fictional spycraft of Alan Furst and Charles McCarry, you might well enjoy Kolb's well as this mini-lesson in intelligence gathering...

Because there is no one book which would make a perfect gift for everyone, you must begin by gathering a bit of basic intelligence about the target--that is, the intended recipient of the gift. Give anyone, no matter how good a friend, a book he or she already owns and it will soon be a recycled gift, passed on to someone else and forgotten. But give a book by an author your friend has never read, and it becomes a gift that keeps on giving. If, for example, the target has never read James Ellroy, give White Jazz or American Tabloid, after reading which your friend will be exhausted, astonished, and in dire need of more. Now every time your friend reads Ellroy, you will be well remembered and at least tacitly thanked.

Gathering the intelligence you want will require no dramatic flourishes. Elicitation, one of the core techniques of espionage, is a gentle conversational approach which, used correctly, will get you the information you need without the target even knowing he or she has been interrogated (see Overworld, p. 256). If the target has read Ellroy but not le Carré, give The Honourable Schoolboy, and at the end of it your friend will happily realize there are a lot more le Carrés to choose from. Or, depending upon the intelligence you’ve obtained, you might elect to introduce your friend to the absolute best in American espionage novelists, Alan Furst, by giving The World at Night. Or, for a friend not at all interested in espionage, you might try William Boyd’s brilliant Brazzaville Beach. You get the picture, and if you aren’t willing to go to the trouble to select just the right book for your friend, why bother?

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