Friday, January 8, 2016

Supernotes: A Thriller, by Agent Kasper and Luigi Carletti, translated by John Cullen

There are spy novels, and there are real-life spy stories.  Former spy Agent Kasper teamed up with Italian novelist Luigi Carletti to write Supernotes: A Thriller, a novel based on his experiences as a spy.  Kasper was an airline pilot, an Italian agent, and a CIA asset.  While living in Cambodia, the CIA recruited him to help with their investigation into counterfeiting of US currency in southeast Asia.  That didn't work out so well for him, as, in the course of events, he was arrested (kidnapped? detained? renditioned?) and spent more than a year in Cambodian prisons.

Supernotes tells the story of Kasper's arrest and time in prison, with extended flashbacks of his career.  He also has a girlfriend in Italy who hires a lawyer to try to get him out.  His government refuses to help, the CIA only makes demands, and the Cambodians extort money from Kasper's family simply to keep him alive.  Kasper becomes obsessed with trying to escape; he'd rather die trying to get out than die of malnutrition, illness, or lack of medical care after extensive torture.

As with any "based on a true story" work of fiction, the reader is left wondering where reality ends and fiction begins.  I googled one character (Victor Chao, owner of the Marksmen Club and the Manhattan night club) and found him to be just as Kasper described him.  The prison where Kasper was held is an actual prison in Phnom Penh.  I'm sure other characters and events could be easily corroborated.  But I'm curious to know how true to life were the depictions of the events themselves.

Does this matter?  Novels frequently build stories around actual people and events without the story itself being true.  It probably doesn't matter, except that I felt like this would have been a better book had it been written as a non-fiction account of Kasper's imprisonment and events leading up to it.  The narrative is choppy as it shifts time frames.  I think it would read better as a non-fiction account rather than elaborating on events to dramatize them.

Kasper clearly led an interesting life.  He is the type of character that you might think only exists in movies, but he and others like him are out there.  Supernotes gives a glimpse of what life is like for some of those who "in silence and far away from any spotlight, contribute to the security of the society we live in."  If you've watched spy movies, you'll see some of the same themes in Kasper's account.  It's no mistake that Supernotes has been optioned for a movie.  True, fictional, or somewhere in between, Kasper's story has all the drama, action, and intrigue that you expect in the life of a spy.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

2016 Reading Challenge: A book with a one-word title.

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