Peerless conductor Louis Passau, accused on the eve of his 90th birthday of having been a Nazi spy, is to be debriefed by a covey of British and American agents--until two breathless attempts on his life leave him in the maverick hands of Big Herbie Kruger (the paperback The Quiet Dogs, etc.), pulled out from retirement to serve as his father confessor. Once he gets going, Passau seems to be confessing to the entire 20th century. As Louis Packenstky back in Bavaria, he's dragged off to America by his shoemaker father; then, suddenly discovering his musical vocation as Louis Packensteiner in New York, he defrauds his father and takes off for Prohibition Chicago, resurfacing with his friend and protector Charlie Giarre as Louis Packy--before selling out both Charlie and his smitten sister Sophie by arranging a liquor hijacking and going underground again. As Louis Passau, he wastes no time in marrying Hollywood money (a dope-addicted star) and clawing his way to a top conducting post (first poisoning the current maestro, whose absence gives him his debut). And this is all before he even gets pressured into any of his long-term spying jobs--for the Nazis, for the CIA, for the KGB (the last two involving a satisfying, though incredible, conspiracy lasting for years). As Passau's story winds down, it begins to interlock uncomfortably with Herbie's betrayal by his old flame Ursula Zunder, who sold out their joint operation to the KGB; and Gardner makes much of the increasingly twisted relations between the confessor and his interlocutor, eventually ensnaring Herbie's new love Pucky Curtiss, who's helping him keep Passau one step ahead of all those spies and mobsters who'd like him dead--though not, finally, to the climactic effect he presumably intends. Disappointing as a generational spy epic to set alongside Gardner's nonpareil Secret Generations trilogy (though a promised sequel may develop some patterns hastily dropped here), this works best as a sweepingly enjoyable soap opera of ambitious scheming, sexual conquest, and the inevitable payback.