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Thirty pages into Thurley's third novel of espionage you notice the story is a little slow in getting started. You keep on thinking that for an hour or two, and then the book is over. The story itself is simple: a group of old-guard British statesmen and civil servants, nostalgic for the days of empire, have encouraged high-level rumors about a new kind of germ warfare--a kind that will promote cancer in people, animals, and their offspring and, in the meantime, will give Britain greater clout in the arms-reduction talks about to begin in Geneva. The plot begins to unravel with the death of David Marsh, a rising star in the Ministry of Defense, and the subsequent investigation by the elderly and incorruptible Sir Joseph Sainsbury, assisted by the American agent James Bergman. Bergman is an improbably sensitive naif, a man who doesn't realize until page 165 that ""there were higher appeals than expediency"" and that ""the absolute rightness of the Bureau seemed suddenly suspect."" But everyone Bergman encounters has been playing a deep game from the beginning, and without their reticence and ritual deceptions, Thurley would have no story to tell. The atmosphere of public-school betrayal seems authentic but deadening, so that even the most sensational incidents are muffled, and most readers will care more about Thurley's people than about who is out to get them. A thriller that aims high--Thurley's world-weary characters and the world they are weary of will remind many readers of le Carr‚--but misses by a mile.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1989
Publisher: Viking