The Hungarian Game
Reviews & Comments
The Last Days of Las Vegas
|A bit of candor:
"The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shockproof, shit detector. This is the writer's radar and all great writers have had it." Ernest Hemingway
What Hem was referring to was the chocolate-coated hypocrisy and scams of the world. But I take it he also referred to the shit in the writer's own life and work - that the writer should not turn away from his own flaws.
With that in mind, the following reviews are offered as Favorable, Hardball (Kirkus), and, last, a poke in the eye from Auberon Waugh's sharp stick. Waugh, famously vitriolic and distinctly his father's son, eviscerated me in The London Evening Standard. I don't agree with his opinion, but it made me sit up and think. Also, I was flattered that he'd taken the time to dump on me.
I decided to add the Kirkus and Evening Standard critiques after visiting a friend's website. I'm fond of her as a person, but ... well ... there's this: She has all sorts of puffery posted on her web pages, but somehow ignores the Kirkus reviews that refer to her novels with such terms as "solidly mediocre," "clichéd backstories," "wafer-thin characters," "schmaltzy potboiler," "grievously flawed," "overwrought, churlish melodrama," "a tedious would-be thriller," and "an overlong, tiresome debut."
It came to me that I should be open and candid with all comments and reviews, hence the Kirkus and London Evening Standard criticisms at the end.
US: Publishers Weekly
Cryptic as they come, with layers of mystery unfolding gradually, this new spy thriller is really something different: a chess puzzle that teases and entices you on, with loads of action and appropriate amounts of sex. It is not for those who have to have everything spelled out for them right awaythe fun here is in figuring out just what the Hungarian Game consists of, as American intelligence agents, a hired killer, an ultra-right-wing millionaire, and a Hungarian secret agent once thought dead all surface near a California ski resort. Who is after whom, and why? Bit by bit we learn, right up to the tough slam-bang finale in which the pieces fit together at last and Remly, the American agent, has to reach a life and death decision regarding the ginger-haired girl with whom he has been having an affair.
UK: The Times Literary Supplement, London
A lesson to the reviewer to keep an open mind when proffered apparently typical, overlong, American 'agency' books. This first novel [The Hungarian Game] is untypical: it is gay and clever and exciting, about, on the whole, reasonably pleasant and intelligent people. At the risk of being insulting, one can fairly say it reads British.
US: Los Angeles Times
One begins to suspect that these antic dirty tricksters [in The Hungarian Game] are closer to the reality of the intelligence establishment as exposed by the Watergate hearings than all of their fictional forebears. But all of this is an afterthought: the novel itself leaves little time for contemplation as it whips the reader along over a sea of frothy witticisms. And the color and detail of the book's Southern California locale are magnificent, reminiscent of Raymond Chandler but brought up to date.
UK: Surrey & Hampshire News
The Hungarian Game by Roy Hayes (Secker & Warburg) is an exciting and highly original American espionage novel.
Mr. Hayes is a writer of mordant wit and impressive power.
US: Chicago Daily News
Hayes' spy is a cross between James Bond and the cynical one who came in from the cold. He likes Havana cigars, big breasts and his Bentley. But he finds his time filled with budgets, little breasts and trying to figure out why a Hungarian official 'killed' during the 1956 revolution is still alive.
You know the two paths are going to cross, but Hayes keeps you guessing.
UK: The Evening Post, Bristol
... a lively blend of opulence and bureaucracy, with distinct whiffs of lechery and explosives. The action is swift and the wit is sharp.
US: San Diego Tribune
Hayes is currently basking in the literary limelight for The Hungarian Game ... His story is a gripping one, well seasoned with humor, and contains some marvelous technical detail about electronic surveillance devices, a subject of some contemporary interest.
UK: Manchester Evening News
A man who ought to be dead appears at an airport ticketing window, and the unexpected sight is more than enough to make a randy, expenses-fiddling American spy chaser abandon his girl and start a man hunt. Meanwhile, a sinister figure is booking into a luxury hotel in Hollywood and testing his room for bugs before he starts his murderous mission. All good rough fun.
US: Buffalo Evening News
Too often spy novels are so convoluted and complex it's impossible to tell the Good Guys from the Bad, or even what's going on. Not so with The Hungarian Game. It's intricate, tangled, and labyrinthine, but clarity and intelligibility never suffer.
This is an extremely clever novel about a manhunt within a manhunt. While both the CIA and Soviet KGB are hunting in Southern California for a Hungarian secret police officer who was supposed to have died in his country's 1956 revolution, the Hungarian is hunting documents which would unmask Red espionage apparatus here and in Europe. Simultaneously, a professional assassin is hunting an aging right-wing American millionaire whose senility and bankroll are being used by the back-from-the-dead Hungarian.
Roy Hayes, advertising-executive-turned-storyteller, intertwines all three hunts brilliantly and winds them up in a series of climaxes as smashing as any in contemporary action fiction. To this add an innovative style, irony, wit, strong and offbeat characters and snappy, crackling dialogue.
The Hungarian Game is dazzling cloak-and-dagger and catapults its author squarely into the top ranks of thriller writers.
US: Los Angeles Herald-Examiner
Hayes' spy and counter-spy characters make the Watergate break-in seem like a Sunday School picnic ... Here is intrigue and suspense at its best.
Hayes writes with similes which crackle and dialogue that sparkles, and artfully taps the thinking processes of those about to kill or be killed.
US: Palo Alto Peninsula Living
One of those fiendishly clever things ... a puzzle book as well as a spy thriller.
Hayes is a funny guy, and it shows through in what he writes.
US: Digby Diehl, Los Angeles Times
Michael Korda is obviously some kind of genius. As editor-in-chief of Simon and Schuster he seems to have an unfailing instinct for best-selling books. Take, for example, the case at hand: Roy Hayes' spy novel, The Hungarian Game, which weaves deftly through sex, violence and espionage calculations that would please James Bond himself.
US: Michael Korda, editor-in-chief, Simon & Schuster
The most exciting espionage novel since the debuts of Len Deighton and John Le Carré, and perhaps the first American book to equal the pace and suspense of those transatlantic masters of the genre.
With its fascinating detail of espionage, its sudden flashes of violence, its cynicism and its complex, gradually unfolded, breathtaking plot, The Hungarian Game is one of those rare books that demand to be read in one evening.
This has a lot -- almost too much? -- going for it and as nearly as we lived to remember it deals with a small groupuscule of ex-Hungarian pro-Maoist propagandists who are now over here headed up by a Colonel Jakaz who had supposedly been killed in 1956. According to the records of a Southern California Agency where Charles Remly works who first spots Jakaz on a ski slope.
Then there's the question of their backing by a more or less naive millionaire Routenfeld whom a contractor, Hagopian, has been hired to kill. This is all processed via "a glut of semiconnected information," elaborate electronics, and other equipment designed to cease communications altogether -- probably the most versatile (from dental floss to a crossbow) since The Day of the Jackal. Any way you look at it, an obliterating book and often amusing.
UK: London Evening Standard
Author's note: All due respect to Auberon, his longish "review" is in large measure a rehash of story points and fraught with spoilers and errors of fact, particularly the year of the Hungarian uprising and the status of KGB. Maybe it was the drinks the old boy had at lunch. Or ... perhaps he was getting paid by the word. Also, note Waugh's Evening Standard headline: "Auberon Waugh reviews Roy Hayes." Sounds like a title match!
For those who haven't heard of him, Auberon Waugh, the son of famous novelist Evelyn Waugh, was himself a failed novelist. In its obituary of him, The Guardian referred to Auberon Waugh as "A writer with a talent for vituperation and a taste for vendettas ... the most verbally brutal journalist of his age." The Guardian went on with: "Waugh was never squeamish about journalistic ethics. Once he discovered the delights of the 'freebie', he gave breathless accounts of his trips to the Orient, and the wonderful 'Thai two-girl massage'."
"Espionage can be a messy game"
Auberon Waugh reviews Roy Hayes
Obviously, one does not judge novels which appear in August by quite such strict standards as one might apply at other times of the year. The essence of a holiday book is that one should be able to read it when suffering from acute indigestions, mild heat-stroke, and a hang-over. All that is required is a narrative which flows smoothly with at least two erotic passages between the pools of blood.
Above all, August is not a month where anything is gained by trying to be clever. As the young Cyril Connolly remarked, in Enemies of Promise: "A writer who thinks himself cleverer than his readers will write simply; one how is afraid they are cleverer than he will make use of mystification."
By this reckoning, Roy Hayes in The Hungarian Game (Secker & Warburg) has the greatest doubts about his own intellectual powers, and would probably profit from a course of psychiatry to increase his self-confidence. The story, so far as one unravels it at the end, concerns a wicked Stalinist who, at the time of the Hungarian uprising in 1957 [sic - it was 1956], decides to make his fortune in the free world by selling details of every member of the AVH (Hungarian political police) and also of those members of the KGB (Russian [sic - KGB was Soviet, not Russian] political police) who infiltrated the West under the guise of freedom fighters.
Since these files run to three million pages, he commits them by narco-hypnotics to the unconscious memory of two young women. The scientist responsible for this then dies of Parkinson's disease, leaving the wicked Stalinist in search of the two young women [talk about spoilers!].
We open with a cynical, philandering CIA agent, who tells his part of the story in the first person, recognizing the Stalinist, who was thought to be dead, at a California resort. On the strength of his recognition, he is immediately given a "safe house," 12 deputy agents [12? Really?? The author counted only 4!] and allowed to share a beautiful secretary (who of course turns out to be a KGB agent [talk about spoilers!]) while he investigates the matter. A subplot, turned to good use at the end, concerns a threat to close down the Los Angeles office of the CIA.
[Waugh goes on at length, eviscerating the author, finally to:]
From this moment Mr. Hayes presses a scrambler button marked Mystification, and for the next threequarters of the book it is virtually impossible to make out what is happening or why.
[More plot details and diatribe from Waugh, then:]
Mr. Hayes believes that the best way to write a thriller is to give us a sequence of incomprehensible incidents and explain it all (or most of it) at the end. I can only say he is wrong. The reader's interest falters and dies very quickly, and mystification without apparent purpose soon becomes boring nonsense.
[Waugh goes on, and on, and on, and ends with:]
As it is, he allows his intentions to be diffused, which is a polite way of saying that the book is a mess.
Given his loathing for my novel, I wonder what he had to say about Durrell's The Alexandria Quartet, which is rich, complex, and an acknowledged literary masterpiece.
For the vituperative, vengeful, and brutal Auberon Waugh, The Hungarian Game was obviously not an Orienatal Freebie, and he wasn't as pleased with Hungarian as he was with the Wonderful Thai Two-Girl Massage. The author, as you can imagine, is humbled!
Unlike so many online "reviews" by readers, none of the following were paid for, nor were any of them posted by friends. All of the following are from people I've never met.
As with the candor at the left, note that many of the following reviews comment on the complexity of The Last Days of Las Vegas. If you're looking for a quick and easy shoot-em-up, this is not the novel for you.
Average rating of (4.57 stars out of 5)
J. Walsh (Lexington, MA) -
I loved this book. I was a big fan, in the 70s, of Hungarian Game, which seemed like a truly American voice to match - and better - Deighton and Le Carre, and, for that matter, the Adam Hall guy, whatever his name eventualy settled on. I could never figure out what happened to Hayes, and was VERY pleased to see his name on a new book.
Well, turned out better than I could have hoped. This is not the Remly of thirty years ago; this Remly is smarter, listens better, is not quite so flip. He also is middle aged.
The story has all the requisite features - plenty of suspense, imminent disaster of the most horrible type, geographical shifts, and so on. But it is the characters, and their relationship to the passage of time, that is the engrossing center of the novel's worth. Hayes is just really, really smart in the way he describes a person's relation to the lifespan, the way age colors perception, the way physical changes are a background noise to the other things in life. I don't know of another book that has the subtlety of this one about what it is like to be a boomer getting on.
I could go on. Do read it, really. It is a compelling story, a clear portrait of early 21st century America, and all. But the best part is Remly, himself, grown up.
James Foley (Calabasas CA) -
There was much to love about The Last Days of Las Vegas. Tops on my list are the characters. I especially enjoyed Morris Berman and his interplay with Remly, and Alan Singleton was a refreshingly different character.
The dialog was also outstanding. Every conversation had just the right tone, and I was left with the impression that Hayes spent lots of time polishing every word.
Also, I love a complex story, and Last Days was certainly that. I also appreciated the wealth of detail that left me with the impression that Hayes is a man of many interests and that he'd done far more research to prepare for this book than I had any right to expect.
The quotes at the beginning of each chapter added a lot, by the way.
But the complexity and wealth of detail also forced me to read the book much more slowly than my standard novel speed. I didn't start to really enjoy the book until I slowed down.
After thinking about all the things I liked in Last Days of Vegas, I placed this book several cuts above most, despite the fact that Hayes made me work so hard.
I never read the previews of an author's next book, like that chapter at the end of Last Days. I like to savor a book for awhile, and not get distracted by a totally different story as soon as I finish a book. For me, the best compliment I can give an author is to say I'm looking forward to their next book, and that's a decision I make long before the end of a book, which was certainly the case here!
Amazon.com / Goodreads
"R. Nichols" -
I really liked this story, it seemed very well thought out/planned. Reading the book was a different story, way too many things going on and flipping back and forth. I swear the book had about a million characters. I have read both of his books and would say I am pleased, but this book is not for a rookie reader. Good job Roy!
By Alan Caruba
My picks of the Month
For those who love heart-pounding action, there's Roy Hayes' new novel, The Last Days of Las Vegas, which takes the espionage genre to a higher level ... a story that takes place in 25 different places, large and small, including London, Lisbon, Maastricht, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas, to name just a few ... and you will feel like you have visited these places by the time you are through.
Hayes knows how to set a plot in motion ... his main character is described as a reluctant spy, a tad burned out and more cynical than ever. He's no James Bond. He's real.
You need to jump into this book with plenty of time to read so you can follow its intricacies.
[Mr. Caruba is a founding member of The New York Book Critics Circle. rh]
"Online Novels" -
When Charles Remly, a retired intelligence operative living in Las Vegas, foils an attempt on his life by an ex-Kremlin enforcer, he's thrust back unwillingly into the world of espionage and black-ops. Remly enlists the help of four other disgruntled ex-operatives, like himself eased out or fired from "the Firm" for not following the party line: Remly's former Field Officer, vegetating in Santa Barbara; a regime-change specialist in a walker; a gay beauty salon owner; and an electronics wizard. Together this motley group of middle-aged has-beens investigates what seems at first glance to be a money-laundering scheme and turns out to be a plan for the nuclear annihilation of Las Vegas.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, Ashor dur-Shamshi, a former general in the Iraqi army, is plotting his return to power from exile, a plan financed by the 19 billion dollars Ashor has siphoned off while acting as Saddam's bagman. From his suite in Lisbon, Ashor orchestrates a suicide attack on a Kuwaiti hotel, the murder of a Russian billionaire, arms shipments throughout the third world, and civil unrest in Iraq - all preludes to the of staging a "terrorist" attack that destroys Las Vegas and brings him to power in Baghdad as the American government jettisons the goal of democracy in Iraq in favor of a strongman who can ensure stability.
With its high-tech gadgetry and intertwining subplots, The Last Days of Las Vegas will inevitably be compared to the military thrillers of Tom Clancy. Like Clancy, Hayes succeeds in keeping all his balls in the air as the action shifts around the globe, but Hayes' very human protagonists are far more believable than Clancy's cardboard cutouts and his memorable secondary characters merit an applause of their own.
The Last Days of Las Vegas is a first class spy thriller that will have readers turning pages as fast as they can.
"Robert Taylor" -
A great book! Be forewarned that you will not be able to read this one in one sitting. The Last Days of Las Vegas is a fantastic and epic novel. There are more characters in this book than some movies have as extras. The plot has sub-plots and the action moves smoothly and breathtakingly from Las Vegas to California to Iraq to the Russian Arctic Circle to Lisbon to South America to Odessa to London and then back again.
Forget what you have read from Deighton and LeCarre, this book will keep you just as interested.
J. Whitely -
A nuclear meltdown in Las Vegas, arranged by Middle Eastern terrorists, is the subject of this novel by a guy whose prior novel was written about 30 years ago.
I have to say the tale of retired CIA agent Charles Remly [Spoiler comments deleted] interested me because I too live in Las Vegas.
Many of the characters are believable. I enjoyed author Roy Hayes' knack for conveying inflection/accent in his dialogue. It's an ingenious scheme that the villains hatch, and the counter-point of Hayes' fellow retired agents, assembled by Remley [sic] is fun to watch.
There's something inherently humorous about a group of so-called over-the-hill retirees being able to to [sic] uncover [Spoiler comments deleted] a terrorist attack plan that the mid-career hot shots can't.
Hayes has a clever twist: the attack is to be carried out by Russians at the behest of an exiled Iraqi general who professes to be anti-Saddam and pro-American. The guy has ambitions of returning and ruling Iraq, and is willing to (surreptitiously) nuclear blast the U.S.A.'s "playground" to enhance his own personal profile.
[Spoiler comments deleted]
This book has the makings, in my opinion, of a wonderful action movie. [The author disagrees, on the grounds that he has yet to see an action movie he considered "wonderful."] But as a book, it switches too frequently between venues. A good editor could shorten it considerably, I think, in a way that would enhance rather than damage the narrative. [Again the author disagrees: Every event in the plot is a triphammer that moves the story forward.]
The author's bio is bit too precious: "Roy Hayes is now catching up on his reading in Las Vegas, where he lives with his memories and his intermittenlty [sic] affectionate cat e e cummings."
Author is supposedly a retired advertising man who worked in Chicago, San Diego and L.A. So bland, that I wonder if it's supposed to make me think that dvertising [sic] was but a cover, while he also worked for "the firm" or "the farm" or the "campus" or the "home office" or somesuch?!
"Jack C." -
Whew. Quite the book. I enjoyed it greatly. It was current in so many ways that I enjoyed, but I don't think that will restrict it. I fear that in 10 years, most of these unfortunate international situations will still be with us.
I love Hayes's wry sense of humor and the phrases he coins, which I move into my everyday speech.
The book has such scope and such breadth that I fear some who are used to the everyday adventure novels might have difficulty staying the course. Those people who read Clive Cussler won't be nearly as pleased with this as those of us who read Le Carré. In some ways, this will be the book that people will remember and identify with Hayes . . . he should be very proud of it.
On a personal note to Roy Hayes: Please don't make us wait so long for the next novel.