Overlooked Books: Olen Steinhauer Recommends Brian Freemantle

Olen SteinhauerAs part of our ongoing Mystery Month coverage at Booklist, we’re asking authors to tell us which books by other authors deserve greater attention. Olen Steinhauer has done pretty well for himself at Booklist, from his Eastern European quintet to his new books featuring the “Tourist,” Milo Weaver. His latest, The Nearest Exit, is on our newest list of the Top 10 Crime Novels.

Charlie’s Choice: The First Charlie Muffin Omnibus, by Brian Freemantle

Charlie's ChoiceA couple months ago, after an event in Stuttgart, Germany, the owner of the venue (the “Undercover” bookstore) shyly slipped me a fat paperback called Charlie’s Choice, with the hopeful subtitle: The First Charlie Muffin Omnibus. It was a gift, she said, “because you’re the only one I know who’ll appreciate it.” After reading two of the three novels in this collection, I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who would enjoy this hard-core slice of Cold War cynicism. In the first tale, from 1977, a disheveled British intelligence operative named Charlie Muffin finds that he’s been set up — for operational reasons — to die in East Berlin. He cleverly avoids this fate, watches another man get gunned down in his place, returns to London quietly, and proceeds to make everyone in the industry sorry they ever crossed him. This is simple, straightforward, and hard-hitting revenge fiction that lingers. Despite spawning a 1979 film (Charlie Muffin, starring David Hemmings) and a series lasting over 30 years, the books had never crossed my radar before. To me, the subtitle of this omnibus read like a vain hope — it looks like most of the series has fallen out of print. However, I could be wrong: Red Star Rising, the 14th Charlie Muffin tale, comes out this year. I’ve got some catching up to do.

Read the Booklist review of Kings of Many Castles, a 2002 entry in the Charlie Muffin series.



About the Author:

Keir Graff is Executive Editor of Booklist Publications and the author of five books. His most recent is the middle-grade novel, The Other Felix (2011). Follow him on Twitter at @Booklist_Keir.

6 Comments on "Overlooked Books: Olen Steinhauer Recommends Brian Freemantle"

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  1. johnd.kennedy@yahoo.com' John Kennedy says:

    Keir Graff:
    On the webinar yesterday (May 6th), if I am remembering this correctly, you mentioned the “mystery section” of the library and, later, the “science fiction section.” Do these still exist? True in my long-ago youth, but the mystery books were then dispersed into the general collection which may have made sense to librarians but made life more difficult for mystery fans who couldn’t thus find another mystery writer so easily.

  2. dwright333@yahoo.com' David Wright says:

    Hey there, John. David Wright here – I was the one who mentioned the Mystery & Science Fiction sections, which are still very much in use at the library where I work, and at most of the public libraries I’m familiar with. Here in Seattle we have a Mystery section, a combined Science Fiction / Fantasy section, and a Westerns section. What we do NOT have is a Horror Section or a Romance section, and the latter is really too bad. I’ve seen some libraries that get even more specific, with separate sections for mystery and suspense, or adventure, etc. I love to see that, although because of the scope and size of most larger library systems, it is a pretty major undertaking to do anything like that with any degree of accuracy. As it is, our suspense and thrillers and interfiled with fiction, leaving supposedly true ‘who-dunnits’ for the Mystery aisle. This splits some many authors who have either moved from mystery to lucrative suspense, or go back and forth between the two. Of course we – or the original catalogers that we follow – get it wrong all the time, and we’ll find Harry Bosch has snuck into the Fiction aisle, or some gothing standalone has slunk into Mystery.

    How horrible that someone threw all the mysteries in with everything else at that library back then. I think you’ll find that is a pretty rare practice nowadays, and more and more libraries figure out on which side their bread is buttered, and work to serve their fiction readers better.

    Quick shout out to Olen Steinhauer, whose books are ABSOLUTeLY TERRIFIC – and good call on Charlie Muffin, a beloved character: I have that same omnibus edition that I got in London, I think.

  3. dwright333@yahoo.com' David Wright says:

    “Gothic standalone” – sorry – typing on the reference desk is not recommended.

  4. concettafaciabella@hotmail.com' camille colon says:

    I came across Charlie Muffin back in the 1970’s and kept both of my books. In 2005, I reread both and realized how much I still enjoyed Brian Freemantle and his character. Thanks to the internet, I have ALL of the Muffin books as well as everything else Mr. Freemantle has written and have introduced him to at least one dozen other friends.
    I anxiously await the release of Red Star Rising.

  5. Keir Graff says:

    Camille, I reviewed Red Star Rising for Booklist and I can tell you that it’s pretty darn good! My review will be published in the July issue.

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