THE MANHATTAN GAMBIT by Ben Stein

THE MANHATTAN GAMBIT

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KIRKUS REVIEW

It's 1943, the Americans are surging ahead in A-bomb technology, the Germans are lagging behind--so Himmler and Canaris, in uneasy tandem, concoct a scheme to sabotage US progress. The target? Albert Einstein, of course--slated for kidnap. The kidnappers? Well, according to the plan, American Nazi Maxine Lewis will help two German POWs--Trattner and Whelchel--to escape from their casually guarded prisoncamp in California. But though the scheme goes well at first, with Maxine posing as Trattner's visiting cousin, the escape itself becomes a bloodbath--Whelchel among the dead. So Trattner heads East with Maxine as his lustful, semi-insane moll. On their trail: Alice Burton, an attractively skinny, Jewish OSS lawyer/analyst who (an unlikely move) is the agent sent West to investigate the US-Nazi clues that precede the POW escape; and L.A. cop John Quinn, who just happens to be in the neighborhood as the POW break occurs--giving him a strong vengeance motive when his new love Marilyn is among those killed by the escaping Germans. Trattner and Maxine are captured in Oklahoma--but they escape again. Burton and Quinn (now paired and headed for romance) keep following, then head for Washington, trying to figure out what Trattner's mission might be. And finally, just as the good guys realize that Einstein is the target, the assassins arrive in Princeton--for a lively showdown, with pacifist Einstein forced to wield a lethal knife. Stein (On the Brink, 'Ludes, etc.) attempts to give this rudimentary melodrama some weight via historical vignettes (Einstein urging FDR to act against the Holocaust, diplomatic attempts at ""separate peace"" treaties, etc.)--with little success. Equally contrived is an epilogue that reveals the complex, double-agent motives behind the Nazi plan. But the escape/chase/kidnap plot itself is briskly serviceable, the period atmosphere is quietly convincing--and the characterizations (especially crazy Maxine) are sprightly enough to keep things moving along with modest, steady, generally appealing suspense.

Pub Date: March 11th, 1983
Publisher: Doubleday