THE ROMEO FLAG by Carolyn Hougan


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Hougan's second espionage novel (after Shooting in the Dark, 1984) is ambitious, complex, thoroughly researched, but never quite satisfying in its attempt to link a middle-aged Maine schoolteacher to a highly placed Soviet mole. Nicola Ward, orphaned, divorced, and desperate about her anorexic daughter Kate, is obviously meant for Hougan's hero, Neil Walker, a former CIA agent-turned genealogist whose son Andy was crippled in the car crash that killed Walker's wife. The object that brings them together (though not until over halfway through the book) is a trunk shipped from Shanghai by Nicola's great-grandfather 40 years earlier. When Walker is engaged to study the documents in the trunk for information about its contents, he finds a narrative claiming Nicola as the last of the Romanov dynasty. But a far more dangerous discovery is a photograph showing members of a Soviet espionage cell--including Nicola's father, Tony Sunderland; Val Zamatin, an old colleague of Walker's who is actually a Soviet mole; and the mysterious Dante, an even more important mole whose position the photograph threatens. When Walker interests his CIA friend Hobie James in the photograph, Hobie tries to get more information about Nicola's family from CIA files, finds that the files are restricted by the code-flag Romeo, and inadvertently sets the Soviets on Walker and Nicola. The resulting and highly suspenseful chase from Maine to South Carolina has no discernible effect on the fate of the free world, but it does show what a great family Nicola and Kate make together with Walker and Andy--a goal that seems to mean more to Hougan anyway. Overlong, overplotted, and overpeopled; but when Hougan concentrates on Nicola and Walker, she writes with grace and authority.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1989
Publisher: Simon & Schuster