Paris. November 1940. The Nazis have taken over the once
vibrant, preeminent French city. Stephen Metcalfe, an American with
over a half-dozen aliases, is an international businessman, a
reputed playboy and, most importantly, a topnotch agent of "Corky"
Corcoran's Register. With the Germans rapidly expanding their
empire, he will do anything to help stop their greedy advance. But
trouble --- and death --- follows him everywhere. His actions are
constantly scrutinized, with no small amount of suspicion. His
observers, and his own agency, push him into a hasty and dramatic
exit from France.
His new assignment in Moscow involves the prima ballerina Svetlana
Baranova, a woman he loved many years before. The prospect of
seeing her again quickens his pulse and wrenches his heart.
Metcalfe despises himself for using her in his spy activities, but
the world's future depends on the success of Corky's scheme.
Metcalfe knows "Lana" has a new lover now, a low-level Nazi
official who keeps a close eye on her, a man Metcalfe cannot
believe she cares about, and a man who may be central to the plan
he has formulated. In addition, Lana has "watchers," highly
dedicated men delegated the task of keeping this valuable Russian
asset from doing anything rash, like defecting or getting too
friendly with Western foreigners. Her "Stiva" certainly has his
work cut out for him.
Inexplicably, a number of Russians and Nazis from their respective
police organizations turn up everywhere Metcalfe goes, despite his
exceedingly involved attempts at artful evasion. He is baffled by
their apparent clairvoyance. How can they know, almost before he
does, where he will turn up next? He should be able to shake any
tail with his elaborate methods. But nearly every time he departs
the hotel, a chase scene ensues, followed by a close call and often
an injury or two. There is no lack of action in this complicated
tale of love and treachery.
Ludlum takes a look into some interesting quirks he attributes to
both Hitler and Stalin, explores the ramifications of their
enormous egos, and toys with their fatal flaws. Their war plans
seem to be laid right out in front of you, pointing out the
enormity of the task facing the allies. It is highly disturbing to
think of a different outcome, but the possibility looks all too
real on these pages.
The three years since Ludlum died have taken a toll on his stories,
however. With every new thriller, his classic trademarks fade just
a little more. The life he breathed into his stories weakens. While
THE TRISTAN BETRAYAL is an excellent read, without Ludlum around to
put his finishing touches on the end product it lacks the
robustness of his earlier novels. He knew just the right way to
polish the story. Here, while the ending comes as a surprise, it
feels abbreviated. With so many pages devoted to the love between
Metcalfe and his stunning ballerina, the wrap-up could have been
drawn out with a bit more spectacle. All in all, though, Ludlum's
fans will be rewarded.
Reviewed by Kate Ayers on January 23, 2011