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The ""man in the middle"" is British journalist Ronald Kemp, 43, who (circa 1981) has been working in Tripoli, Libya, for four years--an agency correspondent, a consultant for Libya's English-language newspaper, a womanizer who's estranged from his wife and sons (back home in England). On the one hand, Kemp enjoys a privileged status in Libya; the government overlooks his violation of strict regulations (no booze, etc.); he's given insider scoops by friendly ministers. On the other hand, however, Kemp is approached (during a brief Malta vacation) by a man offering a large sum of money in return for a small amount of information: specifically--the exact location of a new pleasure-beach (primarily for Westerners) that's being planned by the Libyan government. Being no fool, Kemp has a pretty good idea of why certain parties--in this case the CIA--would like to know about cleared shoreline spots in Libya: once again (partly in response to rumors about Libya-backed assassination plots against Egypt's Sadat), the CIA is planning a murder-attack, led by Libyan dissidents, on Qadaffi. So Kemp declines the generous offer, even when financial pressures from England start mounting up (thanks to CIA manipulations). Already, however, the Libyans have figured out how and why Kemp has been approached; they start making life very uncomfortable for him--with poisoned food, tainted liquor, frame-ups, mail, and seduction by an off-limits Libyan national, Lebanese-born nurse Leila. And eventually the Libyans will force Kemp to double-cross his CIA contacts--feeding them information about the best spot for an anti-Qadaffi landing party, leading them into a doomed ambush. (And the Sadat assassination is the inevitable epilogue.) Lewis (Cuban Passage) provides fine, gritty, authentic-seeming atmosphere here, with unusual close-up views of modern Tripoli. Otherwise, however, while competent and literate throughout, this is a highly predictable, oddly undramatic political morality-play--featuring a blasÉ, unappealing central figure who is neither heroic nor anti-heroic in any distinctive way.

Pub Date: Aug. 7th, 1984
Publisher: Pantheon