Yet another fictional reappraisal of the Kim Philby case--which begins when the aging expatriate ""traitor"" sends word from...



Yet another fictional reappraisal of the Kim Philby case--which begins when the aging expatriate ""traitor"" sends word from Moscow that ""I want to come home."" But should Britain let him come back? That's what a secret SIS committee must figure out (their other job: to unmask the ""Fourth Man"" recruiter); and the committee's youngest member--44-year-old John Powell--is given the authority to investigate and decide, presumably because he's unbiased. So Powell sets off on a le CarrÉ-ish round of interviews--with his older colleagues (who knew Philby), with tight-lipped Philby himself in Moscow (who says he ""never did know"" if he was a triple-agent), with a retired CIA man--while pages of italicized flashbacks fill in episodes from Philby's past. But eventually, as always in such stories, Powell realizes that his own committee colleagues are keeping secrets from him (especially after the murder of the ""Fourth Man"" suspect, perhaps by SIS itself). And finally British Intelligence's guilty secret comes out--that Philby was a triple agent, directed to ""play footsie"" with Russia, but one whose loyalty became genuinely confused: ""He was like some actor who gets rave notices for playing some character and in the end the character takes over."" So Powell decides that Philby is more victim than villain and plans to bring him home . . . but too late. Allbeury (The Alpha List, Omega-Minus) writes good, sturdy prose and knows where the Philby sticking-points lie: why did SIS permit him to string along for years after he was virtually exposed? what was his connection to the West German spies Gehlen and Otto John? etc. But these questions never gather up momentum and resonance in the le CarrÉ manner, partly because of the iffy fact/fiction balance. (Readers will keep waiting--in vain--for some mention of Anthony Blunt.) And the shifting between Powell's viewpoint and those disjointed flashbacks minimizes involvement--which is a pity, because the book's best moments, oddly enough, are those concerning loner Powell's personal life: his orphan background, his cautious love for young divorcee Vanessa, and his friendship for a colleague who has a mongoloid child. (Allbeury means for these emotional ties to relate to Philby's homelessness and conflicting loyalties, but the parallels don't really click.) So: a low-key, intermittently intriguing thriller, mostly for veteran espionage readers with a lingering Philby-mania.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1981


Page Count: -

Publisher: Scribners

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1981