The Double Man by William S. Cohen and Gary Hart (Morrow: $16.95)
Thomas Bowen Chandler of the Connecticut Chandlers, hero of “The Double Man,” is bright, committed, dogged, charismatic . . . brave, clean and reverent. Even sexy. By no coincidence, Chandler is a United States senator.
Authors Cohen and Hart are United States senators as well, a Republican and Democrat, respectively, who have fashioned a pretty fair spy novel, presumably on their own time.
Literarily, the distinguished colleagues fall a few votes short of the likes of Le Carre, let alone Fleming. What is lacking in style and flow, however, is made up in insight into the works, quirks and perks of the U.S. Congress and, in particular, the Senate Intelligence Committee, on which both authors have served.
In the wake of a pandemic of terrorism that has reached as high as the secretary of state, Chandler, a presidential hopeful, is appointed co-chairman of a congressional task force.
His quest: to trace to the source tenuous links between the assassinations and a precipitate surge in drug trafficking, with possible connections to the KGB, the CIA, the Mafia, Cuba, even John F. Kennedy.
Persistent and methodical, Chandler is undermined from within the Establishment and assailed from without. A mole is at liberty, or two moles, or 20; one might even have found its way between his sheets.
With more forked tongues at large than a generation of vipers, Chandler works largely on his own, aided primarily by Memory. Memory is the senator’s own Deep Throat, encountered in the penumbra, heard but not seen.
Prolonging the probe, not to mention the book, Memory supplies neither names nor facts but rather leads Chandler toward “the right questions,” an exasperating but ultimately effective device.
If one wonders why Memory doesn’t just spill his guts and have done with it, one is even more curious as to why Cyril Metrinko, a fanatic but highly placed KGB renegade with powerful resources at his command, doesn’t simply have Chandler blown away. Zeroing in on the conspiracy, Chandler is as exposed and vulnerable as Clint Eastwood riding alone into town to wipe out the Black Hats.
It is to the authors’ credit, though, that a plausible rationale develops for Chandler’s continuing good health. (“A Double Man” is no eagle among thrillers, to be sure, but it’s no turkey either.)
Chandler’s dogged odyssey, Washington to Miami, Amsterdam, London, ultimately to the Soviet Union, is mainly cerebral. There is the requisite (but commendably subdued) soupcon of gore, a little mayhem, and an attempt at romance that is clearly beyond the authors’ expertise (“The scent of her perfume seemed to settle in every crevice of his brain”).
Love interests aside--and they are mercifully brief--a real suspense builds as Chandler nears his quarry, sidestepping ingenious attempts to discredit both him and his investigation.
With only nine pages to go, with Chandler in Moscow as a “defector” (only the President knows for sure) and with the biggest mole of all--the one that’s tunneled to America’s deepest secrets--still unidentified, one settles in for what promises to be a thumping denouement.
There “The Double Man” sits, maddeningly, astoundingly unresolved: the biggest mystery of all.
Are we being primed for a sequel? Or are Cohen and Hart, canny politicians both, simply hedging? The American electorate, after all, is a fickle lot. . . .