by Eric Clark ‧ RELEASE DATE: June 1, 1981
Clark's The Sleeper (1980) succeeded largely because of the firm concentration on a sympathetic hero-victim; but this new thriller, though clever in its terrorist/hijacking variations, skids from subplot to subplot, never developing much involvement with any of its characters. It's 1985, and a terrorist band (including cool-killer Karen, a Dutch diplomat's daughter) hijacks a Concorde jet carrying, among others, a US movie queen, the Soviet deputy foreign minister, the son of billionaire Andrew Muntwick. . . and an ugly little nobody named Ross whom Karen loathes on sight. And when the plane is forced to land in Algeria, the terrorists and these prime hostages disappear, thus adding the benefits of kidnapping (bargaining from safe secrecy) to those of hijacking (maximum publicity). The terrorists' demands: $100 million plus the release of some top-terrorist chums now incarcerated in a high-security Spanish prison. How will the governments react? Well, the USSR is afraid that their minister's vast knowledge might fall into the wrong hands, so they dispatch an agent to track down the terrorist/hostage hide-out. And the US is unusually, doubly eager to free the hostages: billionaire Muntwick is applying pressure; and (by unlikely coincidence) seemingly unimportant hostage Ross happens to be a computer programmer who knows America's biggest spy secret (the US has cracked the USSR's cipher code!). But the US, by policy, can't give in to terrorists and certainly can't release those Spain-imprisoned Outlaws. So: enter ex-CIA man Singleton, who is secretly hired (by the US and Muntwick) to independently free the Spanish-jail prisoners and do a back-room deal with the hostage-holders. Then, while Singleton contacts the terrorists and assembles a commando team (three men, a helicopter, poison gas, etc.), the Soviet agent closes in on the hostage hideout. And finally: the rescue mission is a half-success, the hostages meet assorted fates, and loner Singleton (who has trickily made sure that those freed terrorists won't really go free) is himself doomed. But though there are twists and ironies galore here, Clark mostly just juggles a variety of thriller routines--a little Guns of Navarone, a little hostage melodrama, a little moral dilemma; and he fails to make Singleton a convincing, life-sized hero-in-conflict. More like a film scenario than a full-scale novel, then: swiftly readable but disappointingly sketchy.
Pub Date: June 1, 1981
Page Count: -
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 1981
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