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The slimmest of semi-suspense plots (vaguely reminiscent of The Third Man), slightly beefed up by leaning on the writing--stylishly or pretentiously--and brooding on the political-moral themes. Soldier-poet Jack--or sometimes ""I"" (""I must often speak of myself in the third person"")--has just learned that his friend Frank has died in a fire in a remote English village. He recalls their odd, close relationship, starting in Berlin in the Sixties. Odd because young Jack is the British equivalent of an all-American, uneducated country boy and older Frank is a hyper-cultured, Austrian-Jewish homosexual. But Jack can overlook Frank's sex-world and learn from him--not just culture but also a sense of political history: Frank and his tough old aunt carry continuing scars from Nazism and have ambivalent continuing connections with the Communist underground. Now, however, Frank is mysteriously dead, and Jack, stationed in Northern Ireland, has had firsthand contact with the ruthlessness of political commitment that Frank talked about: ""You had to get it through your head that the women and children wanted you dead just as much as their husbands and fathers wanted you dead."" And when Jack tries to find out why Frank died, the search leads, via a predictable surprise ending, back to that same theme--fanaticism vs. humanism, the book-burners vs. the book-readers. Hale (The Paradise Man) always takes an individual slant on the political thriller, but this time, sadly, he sprinkles his engaging people and thoughtful notions too thinly and stretches them in too many directions at once--the result is a small provocative blur.

Pub Date: April 4th, 1978
Publisher: Dial