In 1984, young Washington Post writer Bill Cage ignited a miniscandal by reporting that spy novelist Edwin Lemaster—"the American John le Carré"—had considered working as a Soviet double agent when he was with the CIA. More than 25 years later, Cage follows up his story for Vanity Fair—duly warned by his father, a former diplomat who knew Lemaster, to watch his back.
The distinguishing feature of Fesperman's nostalgia-soaked novel is that its clues and secret instructions take the form of quoted passages from classic spy novels by le Carré, Eric Ambler, Len Deighton, Charles McCarry, etc. Like his father, Warfield, Cage is a spy buff who can quote from those books (and Lemaster's) verbatim. He secures the magazine assignment mainly as an excuse to leave his dreary PR job and return to his childhood haunts in Vienna, Prague, Berlin and Budapest. But, stoked by anonymous tips, odd coincidences and revelations about his secretive old man, he soon becomes obsessed over solving the mysteries of Lemaster's past. The romantic stakes are raised when Bill's boyhood girlfriend, Litzi, turns up in Vienna; feelings of nostalgia are disrupted when a player in this espionage drama gets shot in the face, KGB-style. Fans of spy novels will enjoy Fesperman's affectionate homage. As literate and well-executed as this book is, however, it lacks the deeper dimensions that would make it more than a clever generic exercise. The father-son business, also involving Cage's child, David, is affecting, but held against the high standards of le Carré's A Perfect Spy, it is lightweight.
Has its limitations, but in re-sparking interest in classic spy fiction, it attains maximum impact.