FOOL'S MERCY by Henry Allen


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First-novelist Allen offers a thin suspense framework here--two misfits on the run from assorted villains--and fills it with often-pretentious textures: some fair ironic humor, but mostly artsy sex, heavy talk, and hang-dog introspection. The prime fugitive is beautiful Ellen Cane, whose CIA-ish father--""John Kennedy's in-house privateer""--is now testifying before Congress on shady doings with plutonium back in the JFK days; Ellen flees, believing that Cane killed her mother years ago and is now about to have his own daughter kidnapped (for unconvincing reasons). And on her trail are: Cane's sometime henchmen; a pair of terrorists who think that Ellen knows where some plutonium is stashed; and bummed-out ex-Vietnam journalist Gordon Sault, who starts out working for Cane but is soon Ellen's rescuer/accomplice. Ellen and Gordon (dumping girlfriend Dana) become lovers. They burn down Ellen's hideout house--to wipe out evidence that she killed (in self-defense) one of her pursuers. They sneak around Washington, have more sex (""She had nipples pale as petals and a cunt he wanted his tongue to grovel in""). Meanwhile, the terrorists are closing in, killing along the way. Meanwhile, too, Cane's old henchman tries to arrange a quasi-blackmail deal: to cover up Ellen's crimes, to keep her safe but hidden. And finally there's the inevitable bloody showdown, during which Gordon realizes that selfish, tricky Ellen is her father's daughter (""You're evil,"" he says). . . though this near-fatal windup does somehow bring Gordon out of his post-Vietnam angst--and he's last seen on a bus to Chicago, full of new wisdom: ""Life is painful. It was the first truth, and a noble one at that."" Allen, with references to JFK philandering and CIA misdeeds and US malaise, clearly aspires to thematic heft here--but neither the murky morality-play nor Gordon's soul-journey (an adolescent, '60s-sentimental one) comes across effectively. So, despite bits of funny, true dialogue (the henchman's), this is for the most part selfconscious and enervating--a static thriller with slack plotting and unappealing characters.

Pub Date: May 21st, 1982
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin