Tyler's half-successful debut was The Man Who Lost the War (1979), an espionage tale clearly modeled on the work of John le...

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THE ANTS OF GOD

Tyler's half-successful debut was The Man Who Lost the War (1979), an espionage tale clearly modeled on the work of John le CarrÉ. Here, again half-successfully, he's having a go at Graham Greene--the Greene who tests his heroes' moral fiber by dropping them into violent Third-World tangles. . . and into problematic romances. Scott McDermott, 37, is an apolitical mercenary pilot based in Ethiopia--an alienated, taciturn, orphanage-reared loner who was court-martialed in Vietnam (for off-limits bombing) and believes that ""history's a moron."" So McDermott has been dividing his time between flying UN supplies and flying illegal guns to Sudanese guerrillas (for Israeli Intelligence), while maintaining an itchy relationship with abrasive Penny from Berkeley--who hangs out with the Peace Corps crowd and speaks a disastrously unconvincing mÉlange of jivey youth-jargons. But then, delivering UN rations, McDermott meets lonely R.N. Emily Farr, a doctor-missionary's widow who has vowed (though no evangelist herself) to carry on at the Baro station on the Ethiopia/Sudan border: feeding refugees, nursing all (even guerrillas), doing as much as possible without causing the government to close the station down. An odd, sporadic friendship between the two develops; she learns, and accepts, that it's his gun-running plane she has seen--and hated--at night; he is struck by her stoic devotion unconnected to any religious fanatacism. And though she rebuffs his first advances, they momentarily become lovers--after which McDermott heroically tries to fly a guerrilla mission in a storm (""he was now linked too closely with these lives to deny it""), nearly dying. But Emily hears that he has died, which perhaps partly explains her final heroism--a fatal attempt to protect bewildered villagers when brutal troops close down the station: ""now she was dead, as much a victim of their mindlessness as he had been, but without his defenses."" Admirably, what Tyler attempts here is a serious drama of character and moral choices. Unfortunately, however, neither of his heroes is fully drawn enough to function much beyond theme-carrying; Emily is especially devoid of history or grounding. And some of the problems with Tyler's first novel--humorlessness, over-literal underlining--reappear. Still, even with these flaws (and the limp Penny subplot), the narrative is plainly eloquent enough to make the ethical dilemmas real, to make Emily's death moving; and Tyler's evocation of the African milieu is authentically textured. Over-deliberate, familiar, yet worthy work, then--from a talented writer still searching for his own voice.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1980

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Dial

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1980