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Customer Review

on 9 November 2013
There may be something wrong with me as a reader! This book opens with two-and-a-half pages of gushing plaudits from newspaper reviewers but I thought it was ploddingly dull. Off to a bad start: the paperback is poorly manufactured with an inadequate "gutter" - the text almost disappears into the binding. The narration keeps switching between first and third person, another vexation.

Lysander Rief, a rising young English stage actor, is in Vienna in the summer of 1913, seeing an analyst about what we would now call 'sexual dysfunction'. An affair with another patient gets him into a scrape from which the British embassy has to rescue him. A year later, in wartime London, he is asked by military intelligence service to help them uncover a 'mole'. A mission to Geneva ends dangerously.

Apart from a couple of scenes the plot meanders along slowly and comes to a low-key resolution. In the Vienna chapters I was reminded of Isherwood's Berlin: matter-of-fact portraits of Lysander's landlady and fellow lodgers, then his affair with Hettie, a would-be 'adventuress' with a whiff of Sally Bowles about her. The theme of an ordinary man caught up in extraordinary times evokes (deliberately?) the bygone age of tales like THE THIRTY-NINE STEPS and Bulldog Drummond. I began to wonder if this is a fictionalized biography of someone the author knows. It needed a lot more editing to pare down the 'waffle' and crank up the pace.

Boyd is the latest author to be passed the 'torch' of James Bond. I hope his 007 adventure will be more like RESTLESS, the best of his recent books, and not as pedestrian as WAITING FOR SUNRISE.

[Reviewer is the author of SHAIKH-DOWN]
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