PROTEUS by Morris West


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West can be a grand storyteller, but here he's mostly a grim preacher, sacrificing all craftsmanship and all believability of character or plot in order to pursue a theme beyond his grasp. That theme is no less than the world's tyranny and violence--specifically the plight of political prisoners--and the unbelievable character crusading against it is ""Big John"" Spada, an Anthony-Quinnish, self-made millionaire who secretly funds and directs an underground group called Proteus. ""I'm going to fight the evil, whatever face it wears,"" proclaims Big John, so Proteus' international web of agents does anything and everything to promote democracy, free political prisoners, and combat tyrants. The current crisis: Argentina's fascist government has arrested Spada's daughter and son-in-law (a freethinking Argentine publisher). Daughter Teresa is soon released, having been raped and tortured, but son-in-law Rodo must be rescued from an isolated garrison--a venture which requires Big John to kill Europe's top hired assassin. Rodo is saved (though his torture has left him impotent), but more dirty doings lurk: the enemies of Proteus are trying to kill Big John (letter bombs, a fire that wipes out his whole family), and there's a traitor within the organization. Utterly fed up, Big John finally gets really tough and announces to the UN--in ""the speech of the century""--that if all political prisoners aren't released, he'll spread plague germs throughout the world. Corny characters and dialogue that might otherwise be appealing (like Big John's loyal Gal Friday who calls him ""Chief"") are just silly in the Big-Theme context; and Big John's increasing violence-against-violence is no substitute for genuine plot structure. Well-intentioned, perhaps, but ultimately just another comic-book melodrama that trivializes every issue it touches.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1978
Publisher: Morrow