A TRACE OF RED by Edward Hannibal


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Some dandy pieces of spy-thriller plot--but without the pacing and focus needed to bring them all together excitingly. The novel begins as divorced Manhattan adman Nick Burke reunions with his old army buddy Kelsey, who stayed in the Army and now is asking Nick to undertake some undisclosed special mission for Army Counterintelligence. Then: a long flashback, much of it seemingly pointless, to Nick and Kelsey's Army-officer days in Germany, circa 1960: their envy of a squeaky-clean, superior colleague named Brian Galgay; Nick's right-minded insubordination during some nasty war games; his self-defense killing (as OD) of a psychotic enlisted man. And then it's back to the present, with the focus now divided between Nick and Brian Galgay--who, it turns out, has also stayed in Army Intelligence. . . but is secretly feeding data to the Russians. (Galgay long ago fell in love with an East German girl, who'll be killed by the Russians if he doesn't cooperate.) So only now, in the novel's second half, does the interest pick up as we wait to see how the paths of Nick and Galgay will cross. First, Galgay seeks out Nick for background on an Army Intelligence inquiry. Then both men fall hard for a chance acquaintance: cocaine-snorting fashion model Deborah Ormay. And then, in the last few chapters, the story's crux is at long last presented: the Army knows that Galgay is a double-agent, and Kelsey wants Nick to kill the traitor. But can Nick kill? (He's been haunted by that earlier killing in Germany.) If he does, will it be for the right reasons? (Deborah, who now loves Nick, has been roughly raped by the increasingly unstable Galgay.) And so on--with a busily violent showdown finale, love ultimately proving stronger than vengeance or patriotism. Hannibal (Liberty Square Station) is a tough, crisply unpretentious writer: each of the elements here (including Nick's ad-agency work) is sketched in with convincing detail. Unfortunately, however, Nick never becomes the sympathetic, full-fleshed central character that the plotting requires; nor is Galgay (despite a believable close-up of his frustrated ambition and crumbling marriage) a fully developed anti-hero. So: a readable yet only half-satisfying thriller/romance--with a slow start, a fine middle, and an over-hectic end.

Pub Date: Feb. 26th, 1981
Publisher: Dial