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 British journalist Buchan follows up his Whitbread Prize- winning A Parish of Rich Women (1985) with a knowledgeable but overly talky and terminally informative tale of sex, spies, and missile brinkmanship in the last years of the Cold War. Richard Fisher is a spy; Polina Mertz is a spy. He works for the Brits in West Germany in 1983; she works for the Americans. He's trying to find out who killed Professor Lightner, the brains and conscience of the German left; she's trying to work through back channels to ensure nuclear missile parity as the US and USSR prepare to deploy their intermediate-range weapons in Europe. He gets her to sleep with him and, as her lover, becomes privy to the Golden Plough initiative--a plan her team is proposing as a means of postponing the missile crisis and a corrective to the hopelessly simplistic Reagan agenda. He also learns, after a Red Army faction bombs her house, that she killed Lightner and is now using him, Richard, for his contacts on the German left. He's smitten with her anyway and dreams of their life together in domestic bliss--despite the inconvenient fact that she has a husband. When the Golden Plough falls apart, however, both are suspected of being double agents, captured, and interrogated almost to death, then released to their separate destinies, with Richard left to contemplate what might have been had love conquered all. The rest, as they say, is history. More Cold War commentary than plot here, along with aloof characters who do little and pontificate much, virtually chatting one another into submission.

Pub Date: July 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-374-16873-3
Page count: 240pp
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 1995


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