Middling spy-suspense and sexual melodrama, with echoes of everything from Casablanca to Tosca--as Nazis and anti-Nazis...

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THE GATES OF SAGITTARIUS

Middling spy-suspense and sexual melodrama, with echoes of everything from Casablanca to Tosca--as Nazis and anti-Nazis fight it out in Havana, 1939. The Nazis are pressing for a fascist coup (to be led by Falangist Gen. Escobar) that will destroy U.S./Europe shipping freedom; and they're hoping for support from super-tycoon Carlos Aguilar, especially now that Carlos' new mistress from Europe is gorgeous Andrea Durant (rumored to be a Nazi spy). But working against them is brilliant, impotent Dutch spy Vanderlys and his gorgeous mistress (in name only), Elena Jacobson--a Jewish refugee trying to get other Jews from the Havana barrio to the U.S. And there's also interference from American Derek Maclane, the horserace expert who runs Carlos' track and sleeps with Carlos' sister. . . and who just happens to be the old flame of Carlos' new gal Andrea (who is in fact only pretending to be a Nazi spy while attempting to get a famous conductor out of Germany to the U.S.). So the Nazis try to kill Vanderlys while Vanderlys tries to kill apparent Nazi Andrea; Derek tries to regain Andrea's love but is banished by jealous Carlos (later, after the port is closed, he'll join Andrea in a plan to escape with the conductor); and Elena, left in charge when Vanderlys hides out, bargains with a child-raping SS man for the lives of Jewish refugees (she'll give him spy secrets and her body, but then she'll kill him à la Tosca). So: a busy, violence-sex-and-sentiment scenario--interrogations, escapes, seductions, plus added action from the Graf Spec and other nearby ships. But the overall effect is only half-absorbing, largely because Cutler's characters remain cardboard-ish (despite clumpy flashbacks) and spout large quantities of stagey, clichÉ dialogue. (The narrative prose is only slightly better--""trapped in the maze of her desire, opening to an agony that was also her need""--though descriptions of Havana locales and doings are fine.) Intriguing milieu, some workable plot twists: a so-so action/romance diversion that might conceivably catch fire if a savvy screenwriter got a handle on it.

Pub Date: July 25, 1980

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Dial

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1980