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This fifth novel from the British Taylor (Our Fathers' Lies, 1985; An Old School Tie, 1986) toys with four different genres (espionage, coming-of-age, family chronicle, revenge-quest) but takes up residence in none. To start, a classic espionage setup: a British salesman/intelligence courier is murdered by the Gestapo in 1939 Vienna. Cut to London: a down-at-the-heel glass importer, Alfred Kendall, is tyrannizing his wife and three kids, Stephen, Meg and Hugh. (Fourteen-year-old Hugh is our not-quite protagonist.) Spy recruiter Michael Stanhope-Smith picks Kendall to replace the murdered courier and despatches him to Prague, along with Hugh (good for Dad's cover). Here details of Czech networks and the Nazi invasion are secondary to Hugh's travails: stranded by his father, who returns to England, he has a tough time before finding sanctuary as a gardener's boy with Colonel Scholl, a decent Wehrmacht officer. Hugh has a good war, falling in love with Magda, the Colonel's daughter, while in London his coldly ambitious brother Stephen is a rising star in British intelligence, and sister Meg has an affair with Stanhope-Smith. At war's end, the Colonel is killed while delivering Hugh into American custody, and the Colonel's son Heinz vows revenge. This must wait until 1956, by which time Heinz is a top East German spy whose manipulation of the Egyptian Nasser has caused problems for Stephen Kendall at the Middle Eastern desk; so Stephen is tracking Heinz, who is tracking Hugh. The finale has the reunited Hugh and Magda emerging intact from a corpse-littered free-for-all in a Czech safe house in London. An intermittently involving novel, guaranteed to disappoint just about everybody. Espionage readers must make do with scraps (and improbabilities--two senior spies risking their careers to pursue private initiatives); human-interest readers will find themselves distanced from characters whose lives are absurdly compacted (even Hugh becomes a shadow) to accommodate a fast pace.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1987
Publisher: Dodd, Mead