GETTING EVEN by Edward Behr


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Uneven international espionage--with the focus distractingly divided between an imaginary 1977 nuclear WW III crisis and a revenge-quest by a disillusioned French agent. This is rakish Jean Forgeot, anti-bureaucratic head of France's counterespionage unit, who decides (without an okay from above) to save a beautiful Chinese would-be defector from being shanghai-ed back to Peking. But though this Orly-airport operation is a success, it's a bad move for France/China dÉtente, and Forgeot is ordered (by dying Pres. Pompidou himself) to return defector May Wong, a gorgeous sexpot with whom he has in fact instantly fallen in love. So angry Forgeot vows to get even and get. his girl back: he arranges for two of the French flunkies involved to have their secret vices (theft, sadism) exposed; and, with an old Russia-hating CIA buddy, he concocts an elaborate scheme to convince the Chinese that Russia is planning nuclear action near the Mongolian border. Unfortunately, Forgeot's motivations are so flimsily sketched here that the vengeance motif is never credible. And even if it were, interest in Forgeot would soon wane anyway--because he mostly fades out of sight through the book's middle section; Behr concentrates instead on the comedy of diplomatic errors that ensues when Forgeot's plot gets out of hand (China invites the U.S. to join in a nuclear strike against the USSR, Jimmy Carter prays a lot, etc.). True, Forgeot does take center-stage again in the last 80 pages: now a fugitive sought by assorted governments, with his co-conspirators murdered, he goes underground, sneaks aboard a flight to Hong Kong, and gets himself abducted to Peking (via junk to Canton) so that he can use his first-hand info about the phony nuclear scare to bargain for the life of May Wong. But this final chunk of derring-do only highlights the erratic, talky plotting that has gone before, and Forgeot's pseudo-noble heroics hardly jibe with the cynical, near-cartoon tone of Behr's top-level international negotiations. Some clever twists, some effective scenes, good Paris atmosphere--but, overall, a jerkily paced, uncertain thriller that never quite decides whether it wants to imitate Ian Fleming, John Le CarrÉ, or Frederick Forsyth.

Pub Date: Oct. 29th, 1980
Publisher: Harper & Row