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Troika (1979), Gurr's suspense debut, avoided almost every clichÉ of the spy genre; this second complicated thriller, though again graced with impressive textures (along with some pretentious overkill), is disappointingly routine--as yet another brave loner leads yet another investigation into covered-up WW II secrets. The truth-seeker this time is journalist Jane Montigny, who's determiend to learn all about the fatal secret mission of her mother ""Scylla""--a nobly born British agent who died somewhere in Europe on assignment in 1943. (Jane was raised by her late, American father.) But when Jane starts sleuthing in England, she's immediately stonewalled by the government, threatened, and treated to some near-fatal ""accidents."" Undaunted, she gathers clues: connections to a murder in the Bahamas (when the Duke of Windsor was there); missing records of P.M. Churchill's conversations; and suspicious behavior by the current Lord Chancellor (a would-be P.M.), who was the Duke of W.'s aide and a spurned suitor of Scylla's! So far, so good--if not terribly compelling. But then Jane's sleuthing leads to Rhodesia, where, amid violence by terrorists (or are they really Jane's enemies?), she finds love and learns most of the Truth from her mother's old chum Vi Vrisser--in pages and pages of undramatic exposition: Scylla was part of a headachingly complex scheme to convince Hitler that the Allies didn't have the A-bomb and to steal the Nazi A-bomb plans. But the scheme went violently awry, and Scylla was betrayed--by the now-Lord Chancellor, a Soviet sleeper and total villain. . . who finally traps Jane in a secret War Room. . . but is then blown up by Jane's suave, blueblooded uncle. This sort of comic-strip melodrama hardly goes well with Gurr's serious, sophisticated approach--which includes some over-writing as well as preachy cross-references between Jane's reporter-memories of Vietnam and her discoveries of WW II chicanery (by Churchill and others). Nor is Jane herself a consistently effective hero: what is intended as tough, liberated American womanhood often sounds more like abrasive drag-queen-dom. Still, Gurr reaffirms his basic gifts here--strong dialogue and atmosphere, vivid and touching supporting characters--and they're distinctive enough to turn even so flawed a narrative as this one into a semi-entertaining, fairly evocative thriller.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1981
Publisher: Viking