The Tears of Autumn was published in 1974 but it is relevant to 2017, in a harrowing way. Charles McCarry is the finest espionage novelist to come out of the U.S., or anywhere, and he’s still putting out amazing books. But this one is an early installment in his series featuring CIA agent Paul Christopher, and it’s as brilliant, erudite and mournful as its protagonist.
Christopher is a top agent because he listens and regards it important to be intimate with foreign cultures. He understands that winning allies and unthreading plots – to actually determine the truth of a matter – is more important than firing a gun. He is analytical to a fault; his weakness emerges from falling in love with Molly. That makes him vulnerable.
And in The Tears of Autumn, his enemies are spectacularly well versed in revenge. The story represents another attempt at unmasking the true identities and motives of the Kennedy assassination, which took place only eleven years before this book was published – a tragedy that the country hadn’t recovered from.
Arguably, America still hasn’t.
In McCarry’s tale, the murder of JFK was epic payback for America’s arrogant interventions abroad. What the author leaves unsaid until the very end is the true cost of war. A sizeable body count arises around Christopher as he seeks the truth. But the damage from war – based on lies and magical thinking – is far greater. The kicker is that, once Christopher discovers what really happened, the truth is so sickening that the powers in Washington simply don’t want to know.
That’s what’s happening today, in 2017. The U.S. is rushing headlong into a war in Korea. Despite the genuine threat from the North Korean regime, war is neither inevitable nor necessary. The nuclear threat from Pyongyang can be contained – expensively and awkwardly, through reinforcing American alliances in Asia rather than trashing them, as Trump regularly does. But it can be done.
The alternative is unspeakable. We don’t want to know. But it is folly, and plain stupid, to think a war against a highly militarized society with cyber-warfare capabilities, at the risk of millions of lives in economically vital cities, will be cost-free.
“You just got through reading the balance sheet,” Christopher tells a Washington powerbroker reading his report – meaning the actual price America paid, and would continue to pay, for its machinations.
For Christopher, there is also a tally. He has put service to his country before the chance at a meaningful relationship with a woman. The story ends with him counting his own costs.
The Tears of Autumn is fiction, as elegiac as the title suggests. But it contains truths.