BUTTON ZONE by Wilfred Greatorex


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The USSR is planning a non-nuclear World War III, complete with assassination of the US President--so, in this promising but very uneven spy-adventure, a KGB defector and a British agent must team up (more or less) to prevent international mayhem. The first half, if slow-paced, is best--as KGB desk-man Yuri Kharkov, sure that Moscow is planning a spring invasion of Western Europe, somberly plans his defection: he secretly memorizes the names of 17,000 (!) Soviet ""sympathizers"" in the UK and US, including some White House traitors who might be involved in Operation ""Button Zone"" (assassinate the Prez before he can push the nuclear button); he manages to switch places with lookalike British agent Rudge, who'll help Kharkov's beautiful stepdaughter Oryol to escape too; and, most affectingly, Kharkov's paralyzed, terminally ill wife arranges for her own death--so that the defector will be leaving no hostages behind. Eventually, then, after assorted border-crossing exploits, Kharkov, Rudge, and Oryol are all in England--where the ever-gloomier Kharkov tells his voluminous secrets while Oryol (who really lusts for her stepfather) pairs off with randy Rudge. But, when the data is passed on to America, there's nothing but skepticism and suspicion at the CIA. (""They see Kharkov's spill as a kind of poison-pen letter and we see it as an SOS."") So it's up to agent Rudge to go to Washington himself, ""to cripple the Button Zone mafia"" somehow--before the Russians start invading. With implausible ease, he dodges KGB assassins and figures out exactly who the Button Zone conspirators at the White House are, thus ruining the USSR plans. And meanwhile, with farfetched subplots proliferating (the abduction of the US V.P. by other British agents), the more appealing Kharkovs become minor players. This ragged, basically predictable plotting is only one of first-novelist Greatorex's problems here: there's also his peculiar, dated view of US politics--and, worst of all, his laughable, truly amateurish renditions of American speech. Still, espionage fans will find the opening chapters intriguing--and may find enough pockets of transatlantic action along the way to keep them following agent Rudge (a not-very-engaging hero), even through to the busy, anticlimactic windup.

Pub Date: Nov. 2nd, 1984
Publisher: Macmillan