TRAITOR'S BLOOD by Reginald Hill


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Hill, author of the fine Dalziel/Pascoe mysteries, is less sure-footed when it comes to espionage thrillers--this is his weakest effort in that genre: a hectic yet talky spy/revenge/chase tale that begins with a certain far-fetched vigor, then becomes gnarled in increasingly tiresome convolutions. The sardonic, near-obnoxious narrator is aristocrat Lem Swift, 40, "the well-known charity embezzler, illegal arms dealer and fugitive from justice," who's enjoying the expatriate life in Venezuela. . .until he's informed that he has terminal stomach cancer. So, determined to see his estranged daughter Angle before dying, Swift sneaks back home to England--only to be grabbed immediately by British intelligence. Why so? Because they want Swift to go to Italy to kill his famous father-scientist Billy, who defected to Moscow 20 years ago after allegedly killing Swift's mother. Now, it seems, Billy intends to re-defect, stand trial, and Tell All--which would include some secrets sure to embarrass the British establishment (and the USSR). Swift, under ruthless pressure and full of hate for his father, grudgingly agrees, arrives in Rome, seeks out his half-sister Teresa (a likely contact for fugitive Billy), and is soon deep in mayhem. His ex-wife turns up dead; Teresa is tortured; KGB agents are everywhere. Eventually there's a family reunion within a KGB stronghold--followed by a father/son escape by boat, with fatal results for Billy (semi-reconciled with Swift at last). And now Swift, who isn't really dying of cancer (it's all been an elaborate hoax, of course), sets out to take revenge--and to learn the whole, murky truth about his parents' assorted espionage/sex affiliations. Swift's acerbic delivery provides some initial zest, with crisply nasty dialogue galore. This tone soon palls, however--especially in the jokey sex-and-violence relationship between Swift and a tough female British agent. More crucially, the plot--despite knots of visceral action--slides into long-winded explanations and over-familiar twists. . .while plausibility (marginal to begin with) fades progressively. Unsympathetic hero, frenetic doings: disappointing suspense--even if stylish reminders of Hill's considerable talent abound.
Pub Date: Oct. 15th, 1986
ISBN: 1934609188
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Countryman
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15th, 1986


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