MARGIN OF ERROR by Paul Henissart


Email this review


Essentially just a Day of the Jackal spin-off and creaky in many of its plot joints, this is nevertheless a still-promising second book by the author of the promising Narrow Exit (1974): Henissart writes characters, places, and action with a lean, unaffected sense of dark detail and quiet irony. His nicely downbeat hero is Guthrie, a CIA agent dispatched to Europe to get the lowdown on recent rampant terrorism there. And he's immediately handed a hot lead: an enigmatic young German in a Paris apartment (soon revealed to be super-terrorist Bruno) has just killed two French cops (they stumbled on him by mistake) and has fled, leaving behind a stash of weapons and a key witness--Marie-Christine, the chic boutique-owner whom he'd been staying with. Guthrie zeroes in on semi-innocent Marie-Christine, and she eventually (after an attempt on her life by Bruno's crony) cooperates: Bruno left papers in her store safe, papers that refer by place and date to two planned terrorist actions. So Guthrie and Marie-C. rush to Frankfurt--site of the first indicated attack--but they don't quite manage to prevent Bruno from doing his thing: he assassinates the Jordanian ambassador (presumably a symbol of Arab moderation). And then, while Soviet-supported Bruno hides out in North Africa (changing his appearance, killing some bystanders along the way), Guthrie tries to identify the intended victim of the second assassination-to-be; only after much sleuthing in and around Geneva--help from an ex-terrorist student informer, Marie-C.'s seduction of a top Swiss banker who's really a Soviet agent--does he realize that the target is Anwar Sadat, who's coming to Switzerland for hospital treatment. The finale is clumsily overextended: Marie-C. is held prisoner; the Soviets order the assassination canceled, but too late; there's the predictable showdown between Guthrie and Bruno on the hospital roof. And, throughout, motives and tactics are less than thoroughly convincing. Still, you'll probably keep reading, because Henissart does splendidly scene by scene (a murder in an airport chapel, for example)--and if he can come up with a tighter, fresher plot next time, he may very well move right up into the front ranks.

Pub Date: March 19th, 1980
Publisher: Simon & Schuster