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Like W. T. Tyler (The Man Who Lost the War, p. 36), McCrum has done a good, serious job of assimilating John le CarrÉ's quiet, slow, atmospheric, edgy approach to gentlemanly espionage. But, while Tyler went astray by overloading his tale with an unselective surfeit of le CarrÉ-isms, McCrum's problem is far more basic: the story he so moodily, obliquely, intriguingly uncovers is quite simply not worth the trouble. It all begins with the death of obnoxious Lister, a computer expert in British Intelligence's secret information-storage department. Suicide? Murder? And is it a coincidence that Lister dies at the very moment that Frank Strange, director of the department, is being forced out because of Lister's false accusations against him? Strange, though now persona non grata at British Intelligence, resolves to figure out the truth about Lister's ill-doings and odd death--with help (at first very, very reluctant help) from his young protÉgÉ, whom the higher-ups are cultivating and turning against him. But despite the obstacles, Strange does manage to interview Lister's widow and colleagues and eventually gathers evidence of a conspiracy among some bigwigs: no, not a Communist spy ring, but a misuse of the department's computer potential (blackmail, etc.)--for profit and for ""unorthodox methods of political control, which if they were made known would make Watergate look like a committee-room caper. . . ."" True, this might be an adequate final revelation for a fast-moving action-suspense saga. But the stately, internalized le CarrÉ manner demands that the ultimate secrets have emotionally resonant heft. (Consider, for instance, what Smiley uncovers about Karla in Smiley's People.) An admirable exercise in tone, then, with a likably Smiley-like hero and a few strong moments along the way; but McCrum needs to find a rich-charactered story to match his feel for moody narration--narration that here often just seems unnecessarily talky, slow, and circuitous.

Pub Date: April 15th, 1980
Publisher: Simon & Schuster