THE GREEN TRAIN by Herbert Lieberman


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Lieberman, author of such distinctive, imaginative thrillers as Crawlspace and (above all) the recent Nightbloom, offers a dismayingly routine hostage-ordeal this time--with the Russians holding a trainful of Western tourists through 336 pages of predictable discomforts, crises, attempted escapes, mini-rebellions, and limp subplots (in the hoary Grand Hotel manner). The ""Green Train,"" headed for the Finnish border, is halted by USSR troops--in a tit-for-tat diplomatic maneuver: a Soviet submarine, you see, has just been nabbed by NATO forces, caught spying along the coast of Norway. And the passengers are a varied, half-engaging group--including some decadent Italians, a mad Spanish count, a Japanese student-terrorist, a born-again Christian couple, a dying archaeologist, a sardonic British journalist, and quasi-hero Peter Stern (American, divorced, middle-aged). The Russians, blatantly faking evidence, accuse several of the passengers--including Stern--of espionage; hard-line interrogations ensue. III-fed and mistreated, the passengers stage a hunger strike, and are then deluged with delicacies. A young Canadian is lured into trying to escape, only to be severely beaten; there are health problems, stirrings of romance (adulterous and otherwise), squabblings and feuds among the multi-ethnic travelers. Eventually, after the men and women are confined to separate cars, Stern is part of a small group that successfully, if pathetically, flees and reaches the border. Meanwhile, the train goes up in flames (remember that Japanese student)--and a disillusioned Soviet officer is instrumental in arranging a happy ending for most of the hostages. Lieberman doesn't indulge in any of the truly crass machinations of pop-pulp here; a few of the characterizations reflect the author's special feel for the black-comic side of psychopathology. But this is serviceable international suspense at best--raggedly paced, short on genuine tension, with no strongly developed stories amid the frettings of an over-large cast.

Pub Date: July 9th, 1986
Publisher: Putnam