CATALYST by Philip Cornford


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 Australian novelist Cornford's first US publication is an ambitious, unevenly successful mixture of George Smiley's cat-and- mousing with the James Bond formula of saving the world by capturing a global conspirator--in this case, a man called ``Control'' who's responsible for a rash of terrorist killings of well-known hawks in the US and USSR. A terrorist organization--``Vigilantes for Peace'' (VFP)-- arranges the assassinations of a Politburo stalwart and an American senator with an austere determination to leave no traces of itself; even the assassins blow themselves to atoms, making identification impossible. Why? Is the VFP truly dedicated, as its communiquÇs claim (``It is better that the guilty few die so that all innocents may live''), to the destruction of all politicians who traffic in arms? Is it actually a team of Americans working to assassinate Gorbachev in order to unite the rest of the world under US sponsorship, as Col. Klimenti Amalrik suspects? Or is it really a front for the Soviet leadership, as Klimenti's opposite number, American agent Harry Bannon, claims? Dragged into an investigation that swiftly cuts him off from anyone he can trust--his secretary is spying on him; his KGB higher-ups bring him to Lubyanka for interrogation; his new lover Zhenya keeps disappearing mysteriously; even his daughter, Nadya, is sleeping with Bannon (seduced by him or bent on trapping him for the KGB?)--Klimenti plunges into an underworld peopled by murderous smugglers in a search for the trail of VFP and its true motives. Big helpings of anguish and divided loyalties still don't make Klimenti vivid or appealing, and the plot doesn't provide either the texture of le CarrÇ or the simpler pleasures of Ian Fleming. But Cornford's genuinely original attempt to fuse these two strains of the spy novel offers a tantalizing glimpse of where the genre is likely to go next.

Pub Date: July 15th, 1991
ISBN: 0-553-07122-X
Page count: 432pp
Publisher: Bantam
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 1991