THE PEKING AGENT by James D. Horan

THE PEKING AGENT

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Horan's last, posthumous novel is a slow, straightforward thriller (with a complex windup/explanation)--set in 1962-63 and narrated by investigative reporter Tony Sebastian. Tony gets a tip from his top informer, alcoholic Treasury agent Donny, that bigtime, leftwing Hollywood director Stephen Westley is a spy for Red China. . . and that someone big in Washington has put a damper on the Westley investigation. Tony is curious, of course--especially when Donny promptly turns up dead (a pseudo-suicide), when it seems that CIA agent Jack Cortelle was also murdered to hush up the Westley story, and when Tony himself seems to be having near-fatal accidents. So, with help from Cortelle's sister Nicki, Tony investigates: he quizzes Westley's colleagues out in L.A.; he gets a threatening visit from Westley (who, though China-born and an outspoken radical, seems to deny the spy charge); he searches for Westley's supposed Asia courier, actress Suzy Chang (she eventually confesses and fingers Westley); he survives snakes and suffocation; he's warned off the case by Dr. Amos Perkins, JFK's special advisor on the Far East; and he identifies the assassins at work as Cuba-based terrorists. What's going on? Well, it soon seems that leftist Westley has been framed by Washington. And Tony, feeling guilty about having been a pawn in this frame-up, vows to learn The Truth by following Westley--who, hounded into exile, has disappeared into China. So Tony and now-beloved Nicki, disguised as Canadian filmmakers, slip into Red China, get evidence that Perkins is a ""counteragent,"" come up against China's National Security Bureau agents. . . and finally learn the Real Truth, in a 20-page explanation from Perkins. (It's only half-surprising and half-convincing.) Unfortunately, though Horan uses a few details of the 1962-63 N.Y. newspaper strike effectively, the period atmosphere here--crucial to the ultimate revelation (which involves a far-sighted JFK)--is weak. And Tony is a bland hero, though his narration is always sturdily readable. A middling spy-arama overall: rather stodgy and formulaic but also earnestly, pleasantly old-fashioned.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1982
Publisher: Crown