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Gardner surrenders his license for James Bond-ing to package a multi-generational saga about the Railtons, a spy family synonymous with British Intelligence and Security, whose undercover exploits herein stretch from 1909 to 1935 and who dash wonderfully about most of the civilized world. When General Sir William Arthur Railton VC KCB DSO, who made reconnaissance, fought and was wounded at the battle of Balaclava, dies in 1909, he leaves his inheritance to his son John rather than to his brother Giles, the family's wiliest and very deserving eldest member. Resolutely, Giles sets out like a Grand Master to navigate the family through this crisis. First off, Giles engineers John's younger brother Charles' befuddled transfer from the Diplomatic Service to Military Operations 5 (MO5), the newly born British Intelligence, staffed so far by only one officer and his clerk. This is the organization meant to weld Britain's espionage activities into one formidable force. But already the Fenians are penetrating the Railton family through Malcolm Railton's wife Bridget, from Dublin, while Gustav Steinhauer, new head of the Kaiser's vast spy system, is set on fulfilling Wilhelm's vision of the German Imperial Navy--and not Britannia--as master of the great oceans. All of the Railtons, of whom there are many, sooner or later wind up in Intelligence of one sort or another, even the wives, though Giles' family does not know of his full involvement in the purchase of British shares in the new Suez Canal, his dark works in India and Egypt, his secret sessions with the new revolutionaries Lenin and Trotsky. And yet it is Giles, who in the evening of his life, embraces a foreign ideology--has a personal Road-to-Damascus revelation about the power and wealth he was born into--and becomes through horrific betrayal "the first of the really great modern traitors." This is Gardner at his best. Here his quick brilliance at characterization and incredible density of anecdote and plot are far superior in tale-spinning elan to his strong start then fading interest in three appearances as Ian Fleming's glamorous ghost. The Railtons are his chef-d'oeuvre in the arts of melodrama, delicious in their adaptability to the varied countries they pass through, marvelously Byzantine as they begin spying on each other as well as on their enemies. A dynasty this strongly established is sure to return.
Pub Date: Nov. 21st, 1985
ISBN: 0552124885
Page count: 541pp
Publisher: Putnam
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15th, 1985


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