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Ignore the publisher's p.r. about ""the Robert Ludlum tradition""--and the fact that Ross' The 65th Tape (1979) was indeed a sorry serving of imitation-Ludlum. This sequel--a second outing for wry, retired Washington trouble-shooter Lucas Garfield--is instead an above-average entry in the imitation-le CarrÉ mode, with a small knot of espionage action leading to thoughtful, leisurely, convoluted analysis. Garfield receives, through high-placed but unofficial channels, an urgent summons to emerge from cozy retirement. Why? Because Larry Bartell--an Abbie Hoffman-ish dissident, long-exiled to Europe, now a pathetic KGB errand-runner dying of cirrhosis--wants to come home to the US. But: Is Bartell's appeal for sanctuary genuine? And why does Washington seem prepared to forgive him for past sins? And why has Garfield been chosen to arrange for Bartell's safe, secret return to America? While pondering these and other questions, the skeptical Garfield sets up a Bartell flight-plan--with crucial help from Bartell's bygone lover/disciple, still-beautiful C.J. Peele. He also looks into: the doings of Bartell's ex-wife Lydia, whose tycoon-father is a major D.C. power-broker; and Bartell's apparent involvement in a KGB scheme to discredit a top White House advisor. And, meanwhile, hiding out in Paris, Bartell is stalked (for reasons both obvious and otherwise) by KGB assassins. The half-plausible secrets behind all this are revealed in a long, rather static series of confrontation/dialogues. Still, though this thriller is slow-moving and rather lame in its central contrivance, devotees of layer-by-layer spycraft will find it modestly absorbing--with striking characterization (the especially grotesque pathos of wheelchair-bound Bartell), atmospheric vignettes, and some timely touches in the Washington conspiracy of the title.

Pub Date: March 23rd, 1987
Publisher: Atheneum