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According to history, supreme arms-dealer Sir Basil Zaharoff ""undertook an unknown though substantial number of dangerous confidential missions"" for Lloyd George and Clemenceau during World War I; according to Zaharoff himself, ""the information I brought ended the war."" Here, then, Jute (Sinkhole, 1983) offers a fictional imagining of Zaharoff's undercover mission in June/July 1918--when he supposedly went to Germany to determine the likelihood of Bolshevik revolution there. (To prevent such an outbreak, the Allies would seek an early peace instead of fighting the war to a bloody, Germany-leveling finish.) The exploits begin in Switzerland, where cool, suave Zaharoff and his sidekick, French spy Nadel, mingle with German-expatriate leftists. Next, in order to furnish Zaharoff with a new identity, they abduct a Bulgarian officer, kill his German colleague, debrief (and kill) the Bulgarian in Paris. Eventually, then, Zaharoff is ready to enter Germany in Bulgarian disguise--though he is soon unmasked, landing in jail. (Posing as a Bolshevik, he chats with fellow prisoners Liebknecht and Luxemburg.) Does this end his mission? No--because some German higher-ups would like Zaharoff to get the necessary evidence of Bolshevik unrest, thereby bringing on an Armistice. So, though trailed by a bad German officer, Zaharoff continues his researches--witnessing an uprising, overhearing Bolshevik plans for worldwide revolution. And his quest for documentary evidence of this impending terror leads him to German munitions king Krupp, with nightmarish chases and treks in the company of the then-young Lieutenant Canaris. The upshot? Zaharoff brings the Allied leaders proof of an imminent Bolshevik threat--so the war will thus be ended soon. . . though the egomaniacal German generals insist on one more major military defeat so that they can surrender honorably. Despite some excessive whimsy, with too many famous figures bobbing up conveniently: a curious, above-average historical fancy--which, thanks to Jute's scrupulous documentation, may lead readers to his intriguing non-fiction sources.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1984
Publisher: Secker & Warburg--dist. by David & Charles