Despite the Russian name, Volkoff is French-born--and a very French writer indeed: this talented, ironic, but uneven...



Despite the Russian name, Volkoff is French-born--and a very French writer indeed: this talented, ironic, but uneven serious-espionage novel, in the Greene/ Le CarrÉ manner, is written in a rambling, leisurely, super-civilized Gallic manner which will charm some readers and bore others. The narrator is French intelligence officer Lieut. Kiril Volsky--who in the early 1960s has a virtual non-job as liaison with British, US, and West German intelligence. One day, however, about to be transferred out of cushy intelligence, Volsky uses a tidbit of info from his CIA contact to create--on the spot--an imaginary Top Secret Operation from which he can't possibly be removed. He manages to fool the commanding General--but then, of course, the operation has to be made to actually exist. So Volsky, with help from his panicky, senile superior officer and a rascally retired General, goes to work on ""Operation Culverin"": a plan to ""turn around"" Major Igor Popov, top KGB man in Paris--a widower known for his violent sexual behavior (his wife's death was shady) and his parade of buxom secretaries. The prime agent in this plan will be Volsky's old flame, beautiful actress Marina, who will supposedly seduce Popov, win his trust, compromise him, etc. This proves to be a slow, apparently hopeless process, however: after their first meeting at a French Communist pow-wow, Popov and Marina mostly just trade White/Red Russian insults and engage in debates on Leninism. But then Popov--with no pressure or blackmail from the French--seems to undergo a religious/political conversion. . . and is ready to do a complete voluntary turn-around. (There are long sections devoted to Popov's family history, political scars, and his theo-political dialogue with a Russian Orthodox priest.) And there's a final irony too: Volsky gets in trouble for setting up this terrific defection coup--because Popov's turn-around will endanger a superbly well-placed triple-agent who's working for the French, so Popov must be eliminated. A serviceable, if unremarkable, plot--and Volkoff textures and embroiders it with mixed results. Volsky's narration, though occasionally too arch, is often amusing, especially good in the portrait of shabby intelligence headquarters, with virtually every agent secretly spending his time working on some personal literary project. The Popov sections--the political dialectics, the psycho-biographical interludes--are sometimes forceful but seriously impair the novel's overall pace. And weakest of all are Volsky's interior existential rumblings (""Who then, was I? Was it he or I? Or rather why was I and not he?. . .""). Less than compelling, then, and too often cute or pretentious--but richly atmospheric, generally elegant (in a heroic English translation), and a possible contender for the most serious layer of the Le CarrÉ readership.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 1981


Page Count: -

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1981