THE CONDUCT OF MAJOR MAXIM by Gavin Lyall
Kirkus Star

THE CONDUCT OF MAJOR MAXIM

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Major Harry Maxim of British Intelligence returns--in another nicely edgy, cynical yet compassionate adventure, this one with a somewhat richer plot (à la le CarrÉ) than the assassination hijinks of The Secret Servant (1980). Still assigned to 10 Downing St. as a husher-up of security scandals, Harry (not unlike the Smiley of Smiley's People) finds himself off on a private mission--when a young Army deserter appeals to him for help: Corporal Ron Blagg, you see, stationed in Germany, was recruited by a freelance MI6 spy to protect her while she collected some secret data. . . but the expedition ended in a shoot-out, with Blagg fleeing home to London. So Harry agrees to look into the matter--and learns that MI6 has been trying to get some secret black-mail dirt (evidence of bigamy) about one Gustav Eismark, who's been suddenly catapulted to prominence in the new East German government. Did Blagg (who's on the lam again) actually get hold of the Eismark data after the shootout? So it seems. And Harry, after running violently afoul of MI6 along the way, eventually heads for Germany to hunt down the documents (Blagg stashed them there). But when the evidence on Eismark turns out to be iffy, the focus turns to Eismark's refugee sister in London, a former concert-pianist: she knows the real family secret (far worse than bigamy)--so the slightly disappointing finale involves kidnap, betrayal, a siege, and a shootout. Again, then, Lyall's plotting is a little contrived, more than a little ragged. But this rime the more somber storyline is just right for the wry, dark textures: the ugly feuding between Intelligence services; the beguiling hints of attraction between widower Maxim and savvy Agnes Algar of MI5; the finely sketched backgrounds, from refugee-BBC broadcasting to London prizefighting to German brothels. And devotees of the most deep-toned sort of espionage (not necessarily the most trickily convoluted sort) will want to turn to Lyall while waiting, yearningly, perhaps in vain, for the return of George Smiley.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1982
Publisher: Viking