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Hone's narrator-hero Peter Marlow, the ex-spy who went through knotty ordeals in three previous novels, is having a miserable time again--just after settling down to quiet domestic life (schoolteaching in the north Cotswolds) with new wife Laura and her autistic daughter Clare. By page 50 Laura has been killed by a sniper; Marlow, himself accused of the murder, believes that British Intelligence is behind the whole thing. (Because he's been writing some tattle-tale memoirs?) So, ""despite Clare, I had to run."" For a while, then, Marlow hides out in a nearby forest, surviving a quasi-wilderness ordeal--but he's soon befriended by the mistress of a deserted manor in the area: athletic, impetuous American woman Alice Troy, who's estranged from her tycoon husband and quickly in love with Marlow. (""We embarked on a world then, that afternoon, where everything seemed possible at last for us, where we had both miraculously been given a second, a third?--but certainly a last chance in life. . . . Each could save the other. But could we be saved together?"") Marlow and Alice devise a plot to abduct the now-catatonic Clare from the hospital where she's been taken: despite the surprise appearance of a British-Intelligence nemesis, the scheme succeeds--and soon this new threesome is living happily at the manor, where Clare blooms in the easygoing, bucolic surroundings. (She even starts speaking again.) Then, however, an assassin of some sort seems to be stalking Marlow--an African hit-man complete with blowpipe! Could it be that Marlow was wrong, that British Intelligence wasn't to blame for Laura's murder? Could it be, instead, that the killing is connected to Laura and Clare's past life in Africa--where Laura's late, famous husband did groundhreaking work with Early Man fossils? Marlow must follow up these clues, learning the truth about Clare (who isn't really autistic), about the vengeful designs of an African cult. And, after a series of violent showdowns, there's an attempted Marlow/Alice/Clare escape via balloon. . . with tragic results. More than a little farfetched, with too many wordy, pseudophilosophical Marlow musings along the way--but fairly lively, episodic action in a neo-Buchan mode, free of the murky convolutions that made The Oxford Gambit such heavy going.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1983
Publisher: St. Martin's