THE LAST DAYS OF AMERICA by Paul Erdman
Kirkus Star

THE LAST DAYS OF AMERICA

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Another thinking-person's international thriller from the author of The Crash of '79, etc.--even more wickedly disarming, even more audaciously discursive, and again narrated by a highly engaging financial type. He's 50-ish Frank Rogers, Pres. of Missile Development Corp. (MDC) of Sunnyvale, Ca. in gloomy 1985 (Soviet troops in Yugoslavia, continuing economic malaise); and when NATO suddenly seems to be changing its mind about buying MDC's superior ground-launched cruise missiles, MDC founder Herb Patterson sends Frank to Switzerland. The mission? To arrange a super-bribe that will win back the NATO contract: the recipient (to the tune of $20 million) will be Belgium's Prince LÉopold--and this slimily chic caper allows a mildly guilty Frank to chat amiably about the history, etiquette, and sheer fascination of global corruption (""local princes are rather spoiled where bribery procedures are concerned""). Despite the bribe, however, the NATO Council goes ahead and votes the contract to MDC's competitor! Double-cross? Yes indeed--because the whole NATO/MDC situation has been choreographed by rightwing German chancellor Franz Joseph Strauss, whose machinations have put MDC on the verge of bankruptcy and have made Frank vulnerable to blackmail (via tapes of the bribery talks). Why? Because Strauss, fed up with faltering US leadership, wants Germany to have the nuclear strategic-missile capability that America has kept for itself alone: if MDC will (treasonously) sell Germany its cruise-missile technology, German banks will save MDC. Herb Patterson's ready to go along with this deal (and so, tacitly, is the White House!). But Frank determines to blow the whistle--and the rest of the novel, though never less than sprightly, goes pretty much by the Buchan/Hitchcock numbers: escape from Switzerland (two accidental killings, help from acerbic mistress Sabine); pursuit by both cops and bad guys; Frank's inability to get anyone (except splendid wife Nancy) to believe his story; and a few ironic twists--with a downer of a fadeout (""What von Ribbentrop had pulled off on August 23, 1939 was back-page news by comparison""). With no explicit sex, little violence, and extensive chat about everything from missile technology to diplomatic history, this may not grab the broadest suspense audience. But for thriller fans who like to be challenged and amused as well as thrilled: a sly, irreverently opinionated, and incomparably topical delight.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1981
Publisher: Simon & Schuster