EXCHANGE OF CLOWNS by Theodore Wilden


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Wilden's narrator-hero is a gloomy middle-aged spy of mixed ancestry and many aliases: in To Die Elsewhere (1976), lie called himself Berx; in this half-stylish, uneven espionage tangle, he goes by the name of Therrick. His mission, circa 1973 (paid for by Britain): to rescue, alive or dead, British agent Jeremy Nichols--who's being secretly held by West Germany; they claim he's a Soviet spy, and they're about to trade him to the East in exchange for a captured West German agent. Therrick starts sleuthing, finds a murdered British agent, and uses some sex-blackmail to gain access to Koerner, the West German official who's holding Nichols. But along the way he learns why the East so badly wants to get hold of Nichols: he has evidence of Communist moles in the Bonn government (perhaps even Willy Brandt). Furthermore, once Therrick manages to talk to surly Nichols, he's convinced that Koerner is himself a Soviet agent. Thus, with no hope of negotiating Nichols' release, Therrick plans a commando raid on the Hamburg hideout where Nichols is held. And when the raiders find Nichols gone--already on his way East--Therrick grabs Koerner's aides, tortures one of them (near-fatally) for information, and threatens Koerner: either Nichols is returned or the hostages will be killed and Koerner's mole-dom will be revealed. So far, so good--despite a few dangling subplot threads and Therrick's lack of appeal. But then, unfortunately, Koerner's Soviet spy-boss Kagin takes over, and the novel's last 70 pages are a static, polemically talky disappointment: Kagin lectures at length, and with little relevance, on Soviet support of terrorism and ""disinformation"" (far better dramatized in The Spike); he proposes an odd deal for the return of Nichols; but finally Nichols will die, mid-exchange, thanks to America's ""Eastern liberal establishment."" In sum, then, Wilden's intriguing (if overcomplicated) and effectively moody suspense story ends up pretty much sabotaged--by the crude grafting-on of his message (""The liberals were winning another battle for the Soviet Union"") and by the unpleasantness of his pretentiously brooding (""But do we ever learn what will become of us all? Us, who in life. . . , "" etc.) and coolly sadistic hero.

Pub Date: July 20th, 1981
Publisher: Little, Brown