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Well-born, feckless British adventurer David Phipps, the hero of Gwynne's previous whimsy-thriller Firmly by the Tail (1976), returns--in a hostage-exchange caper that's sometimes amusing (in a neo-Wodehouse vein), sometimes just strained and smirky. Rollo Herring of Harvard, attending a conference on ""plant orgasm"" in Moscow, delivers a message to a USSR dissident--and is promptly arrested, convicted of espionage. So Rollo's devoted niece Tootsie Vida Herring, a gorgeous celebrity-designer, seeks help from London private-eye Ian Idlesham and his sidekick Phipps--with Ian soon bedding the tasty Tootsie. (""From the start, he had been alert enough to grasp the salient point concerning the visit of Tootsie Vida Herring, viz., that anyone serious about penetrating her exotic knickers would be well advised to take this uncle business seriously."") First, to find out if the US is planning to rescue Rollo, Phipps goes to N.Y.--where he has cutesy sex with a CIA secretary but gets no help from old spy-buddy Hiram Starr, who denies (falsely) any connection with Rollo. Next, then, at Tootsie's urging, Phipps and Ian kidnap aerialist Sasha Stikiyenekot, star of the visiting Moscow State Circus--planning to offer him in exchange for Rollo. Complications ensue, of course: Sasha turns out to be a gay would-be defector who doesn't want to be exchanged; KGB agents start pursuing; so do the British police--forcing the kidnappers to smuggle Sasha over to France, hidden amidst the baggage of a touring English football team. And finally everyone winds up on the yacht belonging to Tootsie's gay brother Justin, sailing off to the Greek isles for pairing-off (Justin and Sasha, Phipps and Tootsie's lascivious mum) . . . and a successful, switcheroo hostage-exchange. Archly witty narration, some sardonically brittle dialogue--but Gwynne's plotting is thin, his satire is unfocused, and his taste (sophomoric sex, dated racial humor) is frequently questionable.

Pub Date: March 30th, 1984
Publisher: Dutton