BIG BEAR, LITTLE BEAR by David Brierley
Kirkus Star

BIG BEAR, LITTLE BEAR

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Though somewhat too clipped and spare to generate either deep involvement or full-blown suspense, this short Prague/London/Berlin tale of 1948 espionage-gone-wrong is quietly impressive: a sort of shorthand Le CarrÉ novel, derivative in plot yet with its own voice--chillier, more sour, less consciously literary. Briefiey's spy-in-the-cold here is taciturn, super-professional, half-Czech British agent Orris, the only operative to get out of Prague alive when someone betrays the small British network there. But even back in London Orris is being shot at--and he quickly realizes that one of the half-dozen British higher-ups must be the traitor. So Orris, working as a solo renegade, determines to unmask and take revenge on this double-agent . . . until London spy-master Beamfish persuades him to collaborate on a plan to force the villain into the open: Orris will go to uncertainly divided Berlin as a British agent. And indeed, as soon as Orris has arrived in Germany (where the US is getting suspiciously little help from England and France in standing up to Stalin), he is nearly murdered by a Russian agent. It isn't long, then, before Orris, hiding out with damaged young concentration-camp survivor Rahel, figures out who the traitor is: Beamish himself--whose current Moscow-directed project is the weakening of English/French resistance to the ""Big Bear's"" swallowing up of the ""Little Bear"" (Berlin). And, now that Russian efforts to eliminate Orris have failed, Beamish determines to do the job personally. He sneaks off to Berlin, tracks Orris down, kidnaps Rahel--leading to a showdown finale with Orris taking Beamish hostage in an attempt to win Rahel's freedom. There are more than a few implausibilities here, especially in traitor Beamish's behavior. More crucially, Orris lacks the substance needed to give his fate tragic density. But individual moments of stark violence are splendidly delivered; the relationship between Orris and sad Rahel (whose death-camp prostitution has set a pattern for all her responses) is limned with cannily effective restraint; and the lean narrative authority is unmistakable--making this a well-above-average spy parable . . . and a highly promising US debut for a writer whose first two novels have not been published here.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1981
Publisher: Scribners