Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Hopscotch (book and film)

Hopscotch is an intelligent spy thriller, published in 1975, which won author Brian Garfield the Edgar Award for Best Novel from the Mystery Writer’s of America.

Description at MysteriousPress.com:
Bored with retirement, an ex-spy challenges his old agency to a game
Miles Kendig is one of the CIA’s top deep-cover agents, until an injury ruins him for active duty. Rather than take a desk job, he retires. But the tawdry thrills of civilian life—gambling, drinking, sex—offer none of the pleasures of the intelligence game. Even a Russian agent’s offer to go to work against his old employers seems dull. Without the thrill of unpredictable conflict, Kendig skulks through Paris like the walking dead.
To revive himself, he begins writing a tell-all memoir, divulging every secret he accumulated in his long career. Neither CIA nor KGB can afford to have it in print, and so he challenges them both: Until they catch him, a chapter will go to the publisher every week. Kendig’s life is fun again, with survival on the line.
Kendig sends the first chapter of his book to various publishers in many countries. Soon the hunt begins to find Miles Kendig and terminate him. Although most of the agents involved in the hunt are depicted as ruthless, self-serving, and unimaginative, there are some great characters in this book. The agent heading the hunt for Kendig is Cutter; Kendig was his mentor. He does not question the need to silence Kendig, but he does have a sympathetic role. Cutter brings in a younger agent (Leonard Ross) as his assistant in the chase; Ross learns a lot in the course of the book and has some scruples.

The book begins with these two quotes:
hopscotch, n. A children's game in which a player moves a small object into one compartment of a rectangular diagram chalked on the pavement, then hops on one foot from compartment to compartment without touching a chalk line, and picks up the object while standing on one foot in an adjacent compartment.
scotch (2), v.t.  to crush or stamp out, as something dangerous; to injure so as to render harmless.
I saw the film first and that was what inspired me to read the book. I did not do much research about the book before reading it, so I was surprised to find that the book was very dark. Kendig is very serious about his self-imposed mission. He is angry and outraged at the CIA's behavior.

I love this two-part cover but there isn't really much gunplay (if any) in the book. The story is more a cat-and-mouse game in an espionage setting.

Kendig reviews what he has written so far.
    The book was a brusque account of facts assembled in chains. It struck him now for the first time that what he was writing was essentially a moral outcry and that impressed him as a curious thing because he hadn’t had that in mind. Yet it was unquestionably an outraged narrative despite its matter-of-fact tone. When he made this discovery it caused him to realize that he must add something to the book that he had not intended including: there had to be a memoir, a self-history (however brief) to establish his bona-fides -- not his credentials or sources but his motives.
    The book had become more than a gambit; it had been born of him and now claimed its own existence. In no way did that negate the game itself; but he saw that in order to maintain the illusion of freedom he had to complete the book not as a means but as an end. Otherwise it was only a sham -- toy money, counters on a game board. It had earned for itself the right to be much more than that; and if he failed in this new responsibility it made the game meaningless.
There is a side trip to Birmingham, Alabama, which was fun for me.  I had left Alabama only a couple of years before the book was published.
     But he'd need certain things when he began his run and they weren't obtainable in the backwoods. The nearest cities were Atlanta and Birmingham and he decided on Birmingham because he knew its workings.
     It was September seventeenth, a Tuesday. The drive took nearly seven hours. At two in the afternoon he saw the industrial smudge on the sky and at half-past three he was parking the car against the curb on a hill as steep as anything in San Francisco. He spent the next hour buying articles of clothing, luggage, cosmetics, automobile spray-paint, a leather-workers sewing awl and a few other items. The city was acrid with coal fumes from the great steel furnaces. Its faces were predominantly black.

This is one of those books (and films) that I just want to gush about. I loved both but they were very different. The book has a dark and cynical tone;  the film is a comic thriller. I thought both worked equally well. When I was reading the book, I thought the book was better; when I was watching the film, I preferred that version.

The film is much lighter in tone, even including added romance that fits into the story perfectly because of the change in tone. Walter Matthau is perfect as Miles Kendig. Glenda Jackson has a wonderful role as a former agent that Kendig had worked with and been quite fond of. That character did not exist in the book. There are other minor changes from book to film, but the essence of the book and the plot are there. It is just that the tone is very different. Cutter is played by Sam Waterston and his CIA boss by Ned Beatty. Bryan Garfield  was one of the screenwriters for the film and was involved in filming.

There is a 21-minute introduction to the film included on the Criterion Collection disc that we have. It features Brian Garfield and the director, Ronald Neame, talking about the development and shooting of the film. The music in the film is very nice. Neame mentions that Mozart is a favorite of Matthau's; he suggested a piece for one of the scenes. Their stories of the making of the film are very interesting.

There is much more to read about the book and the film in this review of the book at Col's Criminal Library, and this review of the film at In So Many Words. Both of these posts have much more detail on what is so special about the book and the film.

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Publisher:   Fawcett Crest, 1976 (first published 1975)
Length:       303 pages
Format:      Trade paperback
Setting:      USA, UK, France
Genre:        Espionage Fiction
Source:       I purchased my copy.


19 comments:

  1. Tracy, cheers for linking and the mention - so glad you enjoyed this one. It might be time for me to read some more by the author. I'm still on the look-out for a copy of the film.

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    1. Col, I want to read more by this author also. I will hope to find something at the book sale, and if not, I will do more research on some of his books.

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  2. I think I saw this a long time ago. Pretty sure I haven't read the book, I like the sound of that weird and complex setup.

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    1. As you can tell, Moira, I loved it. It exceeded my expectations. And the author is an entertaining person. In addition to the intro to the film, I read several interviews about his writing and his experiences with having his books adapted to movies.

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  3. Glad you enjoyed both book and film, Tracy, even though they are different. I do like an intelligent thriller that doesn't depend on gunplay to add suspense and move the plot forward.

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    1. As in any thriller, Margot, sometimes this does challenge one's disbelief, but since the book was 1975 and the film 1980, it was easier to both elude others and also to set up false clues to his whereabouts than it would be now. There is a great scene where he is using a typewriter for his writing.

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  4. Great stuff Tracy - I've only ever seen the film (which I like a lot) so am now very curious to read the book - thanks chum.

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    1. I think you would like it, Sergio, and I would be interested to hear what you think about it.

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  5. It's hard to believe that Brian Garfield, who was a very popular writer, has fallen into obscurity. I read HOPSCOTCH when it was published and saw the movie version when it was released. Fine works!

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    1. I agree George, I don't understand it either. I intend to try more of his books.

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  6. I was delighted to read this! I am a big fan of the movie, and wrote about it a while ago on my blog: http://lettersfromahillfarm.blogspot.com/2015/04/hopscotch.html

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    1. How did I miss your post on Hopscotch, Nan? (I have been getting email alerts of all your posts for several months, probably for that very reason.)

      You mentioned Savannah (well the outskirts I suppose) as a location, and I meant to do that too. I would love to see the Savannah area, but not in the stars. Just a wonderful movie, with all the locations, and shot on location. It is a feel good movie, and the book is too, just in a more serious way.

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    2. I will look into the book, though I think the romance and humor are the main treats of the movie for me!

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    3. That romance is pretty good, Nan, and there is no romance in the book. Maybe not the best book for you, but still very good.

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  7. I'll have to find what book of Garfield's I already own. This sounds great.

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    1. I am going to be on the lookout for more of Garfield's novels, Keishon. I am definitely going to find Death Wish.

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    2. The Kindle edition of Romanov Succession (historical fiction, World War II, I think) is only $1.99 today at Amazon. I considered it, I think I would like it, but it is too long for me to enjoy in e-book format and I think I can find an old edition.

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  8. I've only seen the film. Loved it. Saw it years ago, but when Yvette wrote about in at her blog In So Many Words, I realized that I had to see it again. So I did so a few years ago and laughed myself silly. Loaned it to neighbors and they loved it, too.

    May have to watch this film every few years. It's just one of those classics.

    After watching that, I then found another movie with Walter Matthau and Glenda Jackson, and then more with either of them. Wonderful, but Hopscotch is best.

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    1. Was House Calls the other film? I haven't seen that but I will have to find it. Films are like books in our house, we have too many unwatched and will never catch up.

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