THE RUNNING TARGET by Gerald Seymour


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Brutal action played against an exotic setting is the hallmark of Seymour's crisp political thrillers (In Honor Bound, An Eye for An Eye, etc.). This latest toes that same line--but tangles things up by overplotting, snapping the knotty story of an English drug-investigation onto the taut tale of a British spy master kidnapped to Iran. The two plotlines don't connect until far into the tale; until then, Seymour seems to be writing two separate novels. One is a sluggish though tightly detailed police procedural featuring an obsessed and beleaguered young cop who participates in the politically fueled pursuit of the man who distributed the heroin that eventually killed the young daughter of Britain's Secretary of State. The other, more central, tale concerns the office and personal affairs of middle-aged spy chief Matthew Furniss, shown fencing with superiors and--in typically reckless fashion--surreptiously providing arms to Charlie Eshraq, a young family friend and anti-Khomeini terrorist. Eshraq, unbeknownst to Furniss, has been importing heroin from Iran to Britain to pay for further arms; but by the time the cops pick up his trail and subsequently try to question Furniss, the aging spy, carelessly ordered back into the field in Turkey by his boss, has been kidnapped by Iranians and imprisoned in Iran. It's Furniss' subsequent ordeal--will he, under heinous and graphically depicted torture, give up his spy network?; will he, once he makes a desperate escape, achieve the Turkish border?--that provides the novel's best, most exciting pages. Meanwhile, the case against Eshraq escalates--and so does the novel's grim tone, culminating in a bitterly downbeat ending that finds Furniss in disgrace and Eshraq a doomed pawn of British spy-machinations. Distinguished by the author's usual strong characters and authentic action and backdrop; but aside from the Iron/prison scenes, the overly complex and long (at 384 pp.) story drags (with the drug plot seemingly an awkward stab at timeliness) and has little emotional punch. Seymour wrote a far more potent political-prisoner novel in Archangel (1982).

Pub Date: Feb. 28th, 1989
Publisher: Morrow