The picnic in Charles McCarry’s The Secret Lovers, a Cold War spy-versus-spy novel, is a sly allusion to Édouard Manet’s Le déjeuner sur l’herbe. When Paul Christopher’s boss David Patchen complains that Impressionists bore him and “Picnics explain nothing,” Paul remains noncommittal. Similarly when Paul and Maria Rothschild try to outwit each other at a picnic on the grass in Paris’ Bois de Boulogne, he is taciturn.
Though they look like ordinary people sitting on a “light picnic blanket” eating ham sandwiches wrapped in wax paper, fruit and cheese, and drinking wine in glasses, they are matching wits. As usual, Christopher is opaque. But concentrating on being amiable, Rothschild fails to notice that Christopher skips the sandwiches, nibbles the cheese, and drinks half of his wine.
Only later, does she realize that Christopher has set her up and has shrewdly guessed that she has betrayed “The Outfit” (the CIA). “Oh, Paul,” she says to herself, “you bastard!”
See: Charles McCarry. The Secret Lovers. New York: E.F. Dutton and Company, 1970
Featured Image: The dust jacket for the first edition of The Secret Lovers.