Wednesday, July 15, 2009

36 Secret Agent

TITLE: Farm Hall
GENRE: Adult Fiction

Outside the little room of smells, a street of boarded doors and broken windows reflected light from a dreary dawn.

All night, we'd been driven through the French countryside in darkness that seemed as hushed as a convent after the continual noise of the war. Paris was notorious for quaint cubbyholes, and the Americans had managed to find one that reeked of onions and ammonia. To complete our comfort, we had petite wooden stools to sit upon and a thermos of cold coffee.

“I wonder if Kant is alive. And the rest,” Gruber muttered.

The three of us had discussed this in low whispers whenever the guards left us alone. How many of Hitler’s pet scientists survived the fall of the Reich? Berlin only surrendered a week ago. Hitler too, in theory. But I doubted an egomaniac of his magnitude would really commit suicide as the Americans said.

Since then, Baba and I had been bandied about by the Americans like prizes from a carnival. Squeezed, admired, and handled carefully. Why? Because they thought we had atomic secrets they needed. Perhaps secrets our captors would kill for.

One of the guards stuck his shaved head through the doorway. Baba smiled at him and said in English, “How much longer, my friend?”

“I am not your friend, you bastard.” The guard glared. “We're waiting for more of your lot.”

“And then?” I asked him.

“Then the Brits will give you a kiss and put you on a plane.” We were treated to a view of his nicotine-stained teeth and the seething hatred in his eyes as he added, “Maybe it will go down in the Channel, just like our boys did.”


  1. I think the set up is good but I find the first sentence to be confusing. The second paragraph clarfies things so maybe you don't need it at all.

    Also I'm not sure if they are French, German or what. All I know is they aren't Brits or Americans.
    If this is clarified I'd probably read further.

  2. Yes, the first sentence completely confused me. As in, re-read it four times and scratched my head confusing. I wished I knew what nationality they were as well. Interesting idea but I was thrown too much to really enjoy.

  3. I didn't like the first sentence either, had to read it several times.

    Sounds like it might be a good story, but it appears over written and moves to slow...

    Thanks for posting.

  4. I too was confused by these characters. Who are they? I get the impression they are being held against their will, but I'm not sure how they feel about that.

  5. It read MUCH better to me starting at "One of the guards stuck his shaved head through the doorway."

    People + conflict = interesting story!

    Before that we have telling and backstory and description, and the tone ("to complete our comfort, we had petite wooden stools") really didn't fit with the soldier's hostility.

  6. I get the idea this is a Holocaust type story with a german/spy side - which interests me a bit, but I'm not entirely hooked. I think I'd flip to the back of the book for the summary.

  7. The first sentence was off-putting. There was a lot of playing with words (it was better when I read it outloud) and not enough attention to the story. I had trouble with the POV

  8. I'm hooked. I like the opening, it sets the tone for the scene -- the broken windows and onion smells. I like the writing, especially "hushed as a convent after the continual noise of the war."

    On a side note, I like the mix of narrative and dialog. So many of the entries here have only narrative in their openings. I think this passage gets to the story. I'd definitely read more.

  9. Not bad. It's not my usual genre, but I'd probably keep going.

    "All night, we'd been driven through the French countryside in darkness that seemed as hushed as a convent after the continual noise of the war" -- No lie, I read the the after the continual noise part as a description of the convent. I'd suggest reorganizing the sentence some.

  10. "Scientists after the war" is an original way into a very tired subject but the writing skips around, making it difficult to establish what's going on. I wouldn't read on.

  11. SO hooked! I don't agree with most of the other comments - I love the first sentence, especially the phrase "little room of smells." I like the slight mystery about who they are and what's happening, and I think you're revealing things at the right pace.

    I not only would read on, I'm dying to! Great work!

  12. Intriguing opening. It feels like it could be a fresh approach to a popular topic - I'd read on a few pages to see.

    good luck.

  13. I'm intrigued by the set-up here, a story from the POV of a German scientist captured by Americans. But I might have put this down after that first sentence.

    "Little room of smells" would be a nice phrase after I knew what the smells were. Coming at the start, it doesn't really tell me anything.

    And I'm not sure how much light broken windows would reflect, since they're broken.

    The "prizes from a carnival" similie didn't really work for me, because prizes aren't really passed around, which I think is what you mean by "bandied." And I don't think "squeezed" is the right word, either.

    But those are just little things. Good luck.

  14. Interesting, but not sure if I'm hooked...

  15. I think the first sentence had too many adjectives.

    I needed some orientation information up front...who are these people, and why should I care about them? It seemed too hard to put it all together.

  16. Not hooked. I found "room of smells" off putting (would probably work later in the story--like Dog of Tears in BLINDNESS--but hard to grasp as the first sentence) and I found the characters, particularly their nationalities, to be a bit confusing.

    Since this (WWII atomic scientists) isn't exactly untrodden territory, the manuscript really needs to sparkle to spark my interest.

  17. Hooked. I liked the little room of smells. It immediately lets me know the narrator is somewhere not nice, and probably somewhere he didn't want to be.

    The second parg lets me know time and place, the third and fourth tell me who your characters are (German scientists)

    And when your scientists speak, they even sound European. If all I had was their dialogue, I would know they aren't American (using 'my friend')

    Very well done, IMO.