Andrew Klavan’s Latest Thriller: A Great Habit of Mind - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
Andrew Klavan’s Latest Thriller: A Great Habit of Mind
by
Andrew Klavan (The Andrew Klavan Show/YouTube)

Anyone who doubts detective fiction can be high literature will be persuaded otherwise by just the prologue of Andrew Klavan’s second Cameron Winter mystery, A Strange Habit of Mind. A terrified man, Adam, in his apartment sends a short text, Help me, to the only person he thinks can save him. But looking out the window, he realizes it’s too late, and that a quick death would be preferable to what is coming. So, he leaps off the rooftop. As he falls, his cellphone buzzes and the caller ID displays a name, Cameron Winter.

Klavan is one of the few great modern authors willing to describe real female empowerment.

The man who wrote this opening deserves an Edgar — and he has already won two of them. Andrew Klavan may not get a third because his latest book is a refreshing politically incorrect escape from current PC publishing fare. Not only is his hero, Cameron Winter, what mainstream critics would call toxic male — a macho guy, desirable to women while appreciative of their beauty and femininity — but he stands against woke madness, such as the anti-man agenda in academia. More traditionalist critics will find Winter a worthy successor to Sam Spade, Philip Marlowe, Lew Archer, and (before Hollywoke castrated him) James Bond.

The Bond comparison works because A Strange Habit of Mind, apart from being a superb mystery, doubles as an engrossing spy thriller at the level of John le Carré (before the end of the Cold War diminished him). Cameron Winter too once had a license to kill as a government assassin, and now teaches English Romantic Poetry at a midwestern university. The suicided young man from the prologue was his student, expelled for a date rape despite consensual sex. Winter stood up for him against the persecution of the fanatical dean of student relations, who also lusts after Winter. You can almost hear feminists shriek upon reading that part, not that they ever would.

Winter decides to investigate Adam’s death, prompted by that last text from him. The trail leads him to Adam’s abused girlfriend, Evelyn. Seeing the facial bruises Adam gave her, Winter reacts with Philip Marlowe-like chivalry. “It made him wish Adam was still alive so he could beat the daylights out of him.”

Winter learns Evelyn told her sister Molly and her husband about the beating. Adam subsequently got sent to prison, raped, and then accused of stealing from a notorious gangster, who’d intended to punish him once he went free. Adam had begged Evelyn to call off her brother-in-law, a fact which intrigues Winter. Evelyn tells Winter her brother-in-law’s identity — social media mogul Gerald Byrne. Winter’s shock turns to a realistic fear, knowing he might be taking on one of the most powerful men in the world.

Before confronting Byrne, Winter virtually delves into his history, and uncovers a web of death and destruction wider and deeper than he feared. Only great novelists can make online research exciting, and Klavan does. A video sequence depicting the downfall of a conservative podcaster who denounced Byrne’s plan to realign the world with his maniacal vision is memorably chilling. At the same time, Klavan humanizes Byrne with a touching backstory of his mother’s suicide. How he later went from billionaire playboy to the faithful husband of Evelyn’s plain yet irresistibly sweet sister, Molly. But Winter can still see the evil he radiates.

As in the first Cameron Winter novel, When Christmas Comes, Klavan alternates his narrative style between third person limited — Winter’s investigation of Byrne — and first person — Winter’s account of his unsavory intelligence work to his psychiatrist Margaret Whitaker. Both narratives are gripping, especially when the latter begins with the line, “The first man I ever killed was my best friend.” Being a master storyteller, Klavan weaves the two threads into one character-rich, seamlessly suspenseful tale.

As he closes in on Byrne, and vice-versa, Winter tells Margaret of his recruitment by “the Division,” his lethal training at the hands of a battle-wise mentor, “the Recruiter,” and his baptism of fire. Winter shares all this with the senior Margaret as his mother figure, seeking absolution for his homicidal past. Margaret accepts the role, though she longs for a less maternal and professional relationship with her dangerous client.

But Gerald Byrne has his own ex-Division assassin, his “Oddjob” — Nelson. He and Winter keep respectfully testing one another like equally trained gunfighters ahead of their unavoidable duel. Nelson extracts Margaret’s data on Winter, which Byrne then uses in psychological warfare against him. There follows a fascinating game of cat and mouse between Byrne and Winter, in which the reader is never sure who is the cat and who the mouse, until the end, and nothing is as it appears. This very much includes the sexual dynamic.

Klavan is one of the few great modern authors willing to describe real female empowerment — the channeling of beauty — in the feminist-controlled arts. He does this through his not-so-tough hero, Winter, as he falls for a beautiful student who reminds him of his lost love (from When Christmas Comes). “He could only go on wondering at the power women had. To do this to men with just their looks, their manner, a word or two, not even that. It was a power sometimes more dangerous to themselves than to others, and yet such a power.”

Two sublime twists near the end of the book are just as riveting as the prologue, and neither one is a cheat. And every page in between has something to enjoy or contemplate. A Strange Habit of Mind is a great mystery thriller, which makes it great literature, by a practitioner of both.

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