Summer is, for many, a time for relaxing, playing, partying, and generally reveling in those things that make us feel blissful and rejuvenated. Summer reading is, arguably, the altar at the very center of the church of leisure activities; an activity to which we would gladly commit countless hours of otherwise “productive” time, if only we had those hours to spare in the first place. I’m not talking about weighty reading here; I mean the kind of books we read for the sheer pleasure of being entertained. There is fun to be had in tearing through pages like a child unwrapping presents, living our lives vicariously through protagonists and their diabolical nemeses, and gulping down plot radical plot twists as nonchalantly as if they were already a regular part of the mundane fabric of our everyday lives.
Part spy novel, part Clancy-esque military suspense, with a bit of a love story worked in for added flavor, Tom Rob Smith’s The Secret Speech is summer reading in its most pure and unabashed form, and a good time at that. Smith weaves a plot that is just intricate enough to keep one hooked like a junkie, yet simple enough and well-laid out enough to make it accessible to occasional and avid readers alike. His prose, while not exceptional, is sufficiently skillful to keep the quickly-unfolding story from ever feeling methodical or monotonous. The characters, similarly, are not studies on human behavior and emotion, but vehicles with which to carry the plot while still maintaining their respective senses of identity and personality. Despite the constant presence of the KGB and Soviet military in the novel, Smith avoids excessive tech-talk as a means of generating enthusiasm in the action, instead favoring diverse, distinct characters and a fast-paced, appropriately busy plot.
Final verdict: The Secret Speech feels ready-made for the big screen, complete with the exotic settings, colorful characters who narrowly escape death with unsurprising regularity, and plot twists, all of which are expected characteristics of big-budget summer thrillers and summer thrill reads alike. As a pick-it-up-and-go summer novel, that is a good thing. Even the book’s release is timed perfectly for the season.
For those who like to take a moment here and there simply to be entertained for entertainment’s sake, as well as those who find a good read as fun as, if not often better than, its big screen counterpart, The Secret Speech is well-worth checking off the list. If nothing else, maybe by next summer, you’ll be able to talk about “how much better the book was than the movie.”
Ben has lived on both coasts of the USA, and is currently a student at The Ohio State University, studying Spanish and Portuguese languages. He enjoys travel, and recently spent several months backpacking around South America.