In this noir tale of international intrigue, a bored Minnesotan recognizes a political radical who tried to recruit him 30 years earlier.
At a concert in the Twin Cities, the narrator, an unnamed advertising executive, glimpses a comrade who three decades earlier had shoved him a Trotskyist Spartacist League pamphlet, which stated: “Join the Army and Organize From Within!” That interaction, he says, “changed my life instantly so that I haven’t been able to take anything at face value ever since.” This, apparently, is enough to make him tail the man, whom he discovers is Curtis Macpherson, president of the salt division at a food product conglomerate. Assisted by his gung-ho co-worker Nathalie, the narrator launches an ad hoc investigation, discovering that Macpherson worked as an FBI agent in the 1960s, infiltrating Chicago’s radical circles until his lover, a board member at the conglomerate, supplied him with a new life and a new nose. When Macpherson flies to Lisbon, the narrator follows him, though he notes (much as readers might) that he’s not sure why. In Portugal, he falls into an affair with a gorgeous secret agent who’s also tracking Macpherson and his paramour. The narrator evaluates all the women he meets, spy or not, on whether he finds them doable; when he attends the funeralof a murdered friend back in the States, he notes approvingly that many of the women attending possess “that hungry ‘I’m a sexual being’ look that most American women lose around the fifth month of pregnancy with the second child when they realize they’re bored with their husbands and their lives are over.” The narrator’s low-grade sexism isn’t mitigated much by his forbearance with his unfaithful, harpy wife, or by his love for his sons, beneficiaries of his wit and homemade blueberry muffins.Nevertheless, the author nails the dialogue of family chaos and spousal warfare while maintaining the discursive, hard-boiled writing style of noir. Though it can be difficult to follow the action, regular murders and a capitalist scheme to corner a commodities market help keep the events interesting.
A well-written spy story with a hollow center.