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It's some time in the future, and the USSR, expanding into Asia, desperately needs ""the industrial base of Western Europe""; but as long as the U.S. has mini-nuclear forces based in England, a westward Soviet attack is too risky. Therefore, the KGB and GRU chiefs hatch a scheme to split the U.S. from the U.K. (relations are already strained)--by planting and leaking a phony Washington plan (code-named Hastings) for the U.S. occupation of left-leaning Britain, and by plotting the assassination of the leftish British Prime Minister (who just happens to have a psychopathic, mercenary, American-accented bastard son yearning to kill him). All of this is revealed early on here--so Coppel's novel primarily consists of various intelligence forces catching onto or covering up the Hastings Conspiracy: Robert Brede of Defense Intelligence follows a hunch to England and is soon fleeing, with Jewish-Russian ÉmigrÉ Lara, from both the British (who want to know what Hastings is) and the CIA (who want to keep the British from hearing about Hastings, whatever it is); the British-Marxist writer who's been set up to do the Big Leak on Hastings goes 'round the paranoid bend, killing a KGB mastermind and winding up in a coma himself; a lesbian National Security aide commits suicide when her lover turns out to be KGB; the U.S. Prez tries to concoct a substitute Hastings memo to pass off on the Brits; the Soviet Prez learns of this KGB/GRU conspiracy and (after reviewing KGB successes--like the JFK hit) grumblingly gives it his okay. And finally, just as Brede finds the full text of the Soviet-planted Hastings memo, the assassin--who has raped and killed a nice landlady--is preparing to get the P.M. with an antitank missile launcher. . . . A little Day of the Jackal, more than a little The Devil's Alternative--but, unlike Forsyth, Coppel has neither the fearsome verisimilitude nor the sharp-focused tautness; much that should be active is merely repetitious and talky. Still, though neither the faceless central characters nor the central premises here ever really grab, it's a smooth, professional job: slow, agreeable reading for those with a weakness for WW III scenarios and (especially) criss-crossing government agents.

Pub Date: Sept. 15th, 1980
Publisher: Holt, Rinehart & Winston