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In 1953 Gregory Hawthorn, a leading independent American oil-tycoon, is approached by prim British spymaster/diplomat Alan Drinkwater--who has a little plan to ""totally confuse, confound, embarrass, and finally destroy the Soviet Union in the Caribbean basin."" The plan? Hawthorn will lease barren oil-fields in British Guiana, pretend to discover oodles of oil, make a deal to supply the USSR with fuel for Caribbean/Central American leftist governments or rebels (e.g., young F. Castro). . . and then either leave the Soviets high and dry, or supply them with lethally sabotaged oil-substitutes. (The other great goal of the scheme: to divert the USSR from exploring Mideast oil sources.) At first very reluctant, Hawthorn does eventually agree, won over by a doublo-whammy of patriotism and lucre ($500 million profit). By the mid-1950s the Guiana oil-fields concession belongs to him; he makes contact with Moscow's agent in the area, who is made to believe that apolitical Hawthorn is perfectly prepared to supply USSR satellites if and when oil is discovered; the appropriate Guiana officials are courted and bribed. But two obstacles stand in the way of the conspiracy: a neighboring landowner refuses to make it possible for Hawthorn to lay down a pipeline from the fields to the harbor (he's soon murdered by the oil-hungry Russians); and engineer Stephen Moffitt appears on the scene--a brainwashed Korean War vet who's secretly working for the Soviets. . . or perhaps the Chinese. . . but maybe not. Will the conspiracy go ahead as planned? Well, yes and no. Technical trickery (with ghostly tankers) fools the Russians; the fake oil-find convinces. Unfortunately, however, a nationalization plan by the flaky Guiana government and a surprise move by the enigmatic Moffitt change everything in the climactic chapters. . . with an only so-so final score: ""I suppose I could give ourselves a C minus for the Caribbean part and maybe a B plus for the Middle East,"" suggests one of Hawthorn's co-conspirators. Ironic, low-key, not-too-farfetched caper/espionage doings--modest but quietly appealing, with intriguing specifics instead of melodramatic clichÉs.

Pub Date: Sept. 24th, 1984
Publisher: Dembner--dist. by Norton