This week: Gregory Maguire's "Son of a Witch." Also: "My Father the Spy: An Investigative Memoir" by John H. Richardson

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“Son of a Witch”
by Gregory Maguire
ReganBooks, 337 pp., $26.95

Gregory Maguire has veered well off the Yellow Brick Road in this sequel to his 1995 bestselling novel “Wicked” — now a long-running Broadway show. The Emerald City, vividly imagined in Maguire’s new “Son of a Witch,” is a dangerous place where barbarians run amok, removing the faces of the unwary and leaving their bloody bodies by the roadside. Oz, ruled ineffectively by Glinda the Good Witch, is a chaos of corruption and cruelty.

A young adolescent boy, beaten nearly to death, is discovered and presented to the Superior Maunt at the Cloister of Saint Glinda; she realizes he is Liir, who is said to be the son of the dead Wicked Witch of the West, Elphaba Thropp.

Through intermittent flashbacks, Maguire tells us about Liir’s childhood, including his journey to the Wizard’s Castle with Dorothy and her cohorts, and how he survived after the death of Elphaba. Now, pale and comatose, he is nursed back to health by the young mute novice Candle, who grows to love her patient and urges him back to life with her music.

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Restored to health and armed with Elphaba’s cloak and broom, Liir sets out to join the Home Guard on a quest for redemption. Along the way there are some terrific images (such as Liir astride the broom for the first time, riding it “up the draft from hell, and into the night”). He doesn’t share his mother’s power, though he has picked up “something … not power, not intuition … but a good ear.”

Coming up

Gregory Maguire

The author of “Son of a Witch” will read at 7 p.m. Oct. 24 at Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park (206-366-3333 or

Maguire himself has a good ear, especially for gothic imagery, but this new book wanders a great deal. It’s difficult when you have a hero who is comatose for a good portion of the book; “Wicked” also is a tough act to follow. The ending of “Son of a Witch,” however, is a stunner, leaving the way open for a third novel to follow.

Reviewed by Melinda Bargreen

“My Father the Spy: An Investigative Memoir”
by John H. Richardson
HarperCollins, 336 pp., $24.95

All fathers, and I speak as one, have secrets. But not all of them combine this trait with the habit of autobiography. In his early life John H. Richardson (1913-1998) recorded his every mood and action with an obsessiveness that his son (same name) must have appreciated when writing the early chapters of his book.

But not every father, in his mature years, keeps a loaded and unexplained revolver in his bedside table and carries it with him to work as if it were as necessary to his attire as a pocket handkerchief.

And not every father, bound by law to keep certain secrets, has the foresight to beget a son who will become an investigative reporter. This son says at one point that his father had become “a man I could hardly imagine.” Luckily, thanks to his relentless digging, imagination was not required. The facts were lurid enough.

The story is well told. The author’s father moves from the CIC (Counter Intelligence Corps) of the Army and into the CIA. Big names occur in the margins: Henry Cabot Lodge was an enemy to be feared almost as much as South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem.

And it is told with a certain humorous objectivity, right up to the end, where the death of the principal character is movingly depicted, with love. “My Father the Spy” is well worth the time of anyone interested in the period and the subject.

Reviewed by Clarence Brown