THE CAPTAIN AND THE ENEMY
This truly odd and strangely affecting love story by the modern master begins as a quirky narrative of life in the English demimonde and ends pure Greene--a tale of modern espionage, marked by unclear alliances and shadowy double-dealing. The 22-year-old narrator of all but the final few pages here came into the world as Victor Baxter--a "mistake," his long-absent father tells him later in life. Well after his mother's death, Victor finds himself in the custody of a peculiar pair of lovers. The Captain (a.k.a. Colonel Claridge, Carver, Cardigan, Mr. Smith, J. Victor) appears unannounced at Victor's boarding school, claiming to have won the boy in a game of backgammon with his father. An outcast at school, and never much thrilled by his own name, Victor gratefully changes to Jim and becomes the Captain's ward, seen after by Liza, a woman half the Captain's age who can't have children of her own due to a botched abortion (that child was also sired by Victor/Jim's biological father, himself a nasty piece of work). Despite the Captain's best intentions of his beloved Liza, he's seldom around. And Jim's endless questioning only makes the old faker dissemble all the more, though he learns that the source of the checks to Liza is the Captain's bounty as a thief. An enigma to the boy-turned-journalist, the charming liar fancies himself a character from Kipling; and, after Liza's death, Jim heads to Panama as part of "getting to know the Captain," which could easily be the title of this intriguing little novel. As Jim figures out, the Captain has been running guns to revolutionaries in Central America, with the covert approval of the Panamanian government. A suspicious Mr. Quigly, clearly a spook for the US, slithers around Jim's hotel, pretending to be a journalist, and most likely causes the Captain's failed heroic death. A coda to the novel, until this point a found manuscript by Jim, details his own mysterious death in pursuit of his own wild dream. Expert and fluent prose flawlessly evokes a world of British eccentricity and international political madness.