THE SLEEPER by Eric Clark


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Clark's quietly impressive spy debut, Black Gambit (1977), had everything but original twists--and now he has those too, in a swift, cleanly knotted festival of ironies that's marred only slightly by over-contrivance. British Intelligence, under pressure from the CIA, is determined to get the goods on Sir Joseph Banks, an adviser to the Prime Minister suspected of leaking military secrets to Russia. But how to investigate well-connected Sir J. discreetly, at arm's length? By using James Fenn, an English ex-journalist living the simple life with his family near Malta--a man who once did Sir Joseph a great favor, a man whom the British know to be a Soviet sleeper spy recruited long ago and never activated. So, posing as a KGB agent, sadistic British agent Mallahide contacts Fenn (who's no longer the passionate Marxist he was) and convinces him that he's been activated as a Soviet spy for one special assignment: to get the lowdown on Sir Joseph. Fenn reluctantly goes into action in London and does win Sir J.'s confidence--but he can't find the sort of evidence that his ""KGB"" bosses (really British Intelligence, of course) seem to want. So the desperate Brits then decide to frame Sir J. and force him to retire from public life--through an elaborate blackmail/treason scheme involving Sir J.'s unstable, beautiful daughter (with whom guilty, wife-loving Fenn has begun an affair). True, this scheme seems perhaps more complex than really necessary: fake bodies, fake policemen, etc. But each sequence is cannily timed for maximum tension--and when the whole elegant operation is seen to be a misguided disaster, the complexity does enhance the final ironies (which all fall down on strangely likable Fenn, caught in a fierce showdown with the hideous Mallahide). Dark-edged characters, shards of raw action, implicit moral dilemmas left and right, plus a last-page punchline guaranteed to elicit a gasp or groan--a quick-reading, mind-lingering entertainment that boosts Clark high up in the stark, lean, British-suspense echelons.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1980
Publisher: Atheneum