WHO'S ON FIRST by
Kirkus Star

WHO'S ON FIRST

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Though not nearly as charmingly imagined as Stained Glass (1978), this third, least giddy case for CIA agent Blackford Oakes again manages to make an unlikely, winning spy diversion out of clean plotting, Buckley barbs, and even an inkling of serious moral dilemma. Blacky's 1957 assignment: to discreetly kidnap apolitical Soviet scientist Viktor Kapitsa in Paris and--with the help of Viktor's best friend, a defector (they were in Stalin-era gulag together)--find out how close the Russians are to putting a satellite in space. The gentle nabbing goes beautifully (Blacky impersonates a Paris cabby to abduct Viktor and his wife), but complications soon set in: some young, bitter veterans of the failed Hungary uprising are out to kill Blacky (they mistakenly believe he betrayed them); Viktor, happily married and ever-fearful since his prison years, is a less-than-enthusiastic traitor; and, though Blacky's operation has been disguised as an Algerian-rebel action, the Russians figure out that the kidnap is indeed a CIA scheme. So, when Viktor finally gives the CIA what it wants and returns to Russia (prepared to be a sometime spy for the U.S.), he is immediately grabbed by the KGB and slated for execution. Can he be saved? Only if Blacky (who feels thoroughly responsible) agrees to betray the U.S. and help Russia to be the first in space. A neat construct--and it's fleshed out with economy, leaving room for Buckley to digress both passionately (the Soviet-prison sequence is genuinely awful and moving) and comically (bitchy repartee between Allen Dulles and Dean Acheson, saucy repartee between Blacky and fianc‚e Sally). Buckley's most serious espionagerie yet, then, but still breezily sardonic enough to provide easy, provocative entertainment.

Pub Date: Feb. 15th, 1979
Publisher: Doubleday