Literary novelist/short-story writer Bontly (The Adventures of a Young Outlaw, 1973) doesn't do much better in this second...

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THE GIANT'S SHADOW

Literary novelist/short-story writer Bontly (The Adventures of a Young Outlaw, 1973) doesn't do much better in this second stab at genre fiction--a thoughtful but transparent tale of an English prof's stumble into espionage--than he did in his first, the cliched occulter Celestial Chess (1979). For 30 years, Sam Abbot has lived--as the title says--under the shadow of literary giant Jeremy Sawyer, the poet/genius who dominated him at Cambridge and then apparently defected to Russia in the late 60's. Now 50-ish and teaching in Germany, Abbot gets his chance to come to terms with Sawyer when a fellow prof whom Abbot finds dying--murdered!--in the woods hands Abbot an old photo of Abbot and Sawyer. This photo proves Abbot's ticket into a violent world peopled by tough CIA agents; one scarred KGB assassin (""the Hangman""); one legendary freedom fighter (""the Stork""); and the ELF--an anti-communist front that wants Abbot to help Sawyer re-defect with an explosive memoir that the poet insists only Abbot may edit. A illegal foray into East Berlin briefly reunites Abbot with Sawyer--who demands that Abbot retrieve from England a box left behind 20 years before. That's fine by Abbot, who finds all this cloak-and-daggering a welcome relief from teaching (he's even slept with a luscious young ELF-er), and who knows that in England he can see his old flame. Of course, though, there's that Hangman to deal with, and a lot of stiff dialogue to get past ("" 'Pah, Englishwoman! You will let your men walk all over you, will you not? This is why England is a decadent nation' ""), and a few predictable surprises to weather (guess who the Stork is?) before Abbot winds up what he calls ""the one great adventure of my life."" Bontly writes smoothly, and his characters--especially naive Abbot and embittered Sawyer--are strong; but the contrived, hard-to-swallow sex-and-spy adventuring here adds up to little more than middle-aged wish-fulfillment.

Pub Date: Jan. 27, 1988

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1988