BRAINFIRE by Campbell Black
Kirkus Star


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ESP as an espionage weapon. That's a popular topic in suspense these days, and Black's rich and textured version, though it becomes terribly contrived toward the end, is by far the best yet. The KGB's secret ESP weapon is old Mrs. Blum, a dying Jewish grandmother who has been forced (via morphine and threats) to use her incredible mind-power to destroy; they've tested her by having her think visiting U.S. diplomat Richard Rayner into suicide--and now they're readying her to do a similar job, at close range, on the U.S. President! But while the Russians are sneaking Mrs. Blum to America via London (as an unlikely adjunct to the Soviet soccer team), Rayner's brother John--a U.S. Embassy employee in London--is inquiring into his brother's mysterious suicide. And, with the help of a fluttery British spy chief, John begins to figure out that ESP was involved--especially when Mrs. Blum's keeper, a noted parapsychologist, is killed while trying to defect in London. Soon, with what he knows (even though it's very little), John is being hunted by the KGB; they've already killed his girlfriend and that dear British spy . . . so it's off to America. There, however, Black has to use gross coincidence to move the plot along: John just happens to run into a little girl with super ESP, and she just happens to get on the same wavelength with poor Mrs. Blum--who's on her way to the Washington soccer stadium to do a whammy on the President. This whole finale is contrived in a manner unworthy of the suave Mr. Black (The Punctual Rape), but his other talents are on full display: darkly shaded characterizations, amusing and acerbic dialogue, genuinely horrific descriptive powers, and convincing locales from Siberia to London to Virginia. How much does that plot contrivance annoy? It will depend on the reader's general susceptibility to the ESP gimmick. But even for skeptics, and even with its flaws, this is a superior piece of layered suspense craftsmanship.

Pub Date: Aug. 28th, 1979
Publisher: Morrow