The situation must be resolved, but the young Queen's self-confidence and public credibility must not be damaged. Thus young Blackford Oakes, handsome, debonaire, and audacious, a recent Yale graduate and ex-combat fighter pilot, is selected to penetrate the royal circle, win the Queen's confidence, and plug the leak. The action leads to an explosive showdown in the skies over London, one that could determine the future of the West.
©1976 William F. Buckley, Jr.; (P)2004 Blackstone Audiobooks
It's Buckley, so you can rightly expect pleasing prose. That alone is enough to recommend the book--it is satisfying to listen to Buckley's descriptive, engaging, stimulating writing. But I also enjoyed the realism of this spy thriller. The plot, unlike many in this genre, was believable. The world won't (immediately) end if the mission fails--but the consequences are very serious. The hero is not an unkillable ninja-assassin, but a smart, skilled, brave, but human spy. Interesting backstory that resonates at the end. If you want over-the-top fantasy in your spy thrillers, move along. If you want a very well-written, believable, and satisfying story, pick this one up.
Buckley's writing makes for an entertaining story, not least for the audacity of his hero spy, Blackford Oakes, but also because he weaves in historical perspective to the characters' motivations. The production, however, leaves much to be desired. Frequently there are strange pauses in the narration, as though a sentence were punctuated with commas in the wrong places. Other times, sentences or phrases are dropped into the recording in a way that makes the narrator's voice sound so different that you'd almost think it's a different person. It's distracting. I'm not faulting the narrator, but the editing of the production is just not very good. Otherwise it's an enjoyable listen.
This is the first Blackford Oakes novel I've read/listened to so I didn't know what to expect. What I wanted was an enjoyable listen while I made some long car trips and I wasn't disappointed. The novel grabbed my attention and kept me wondering what was coming next. I was also pleasantly surprised to find that the novel moved along at a good clip--I was afraid that WFB might have some illusions of being a Tom Wolfe without the talent.
I liked the not unsurprising perspective Buckley brought to the early 50's when this novel takes place. While some of the spy details were over the top 007-type stuff, Buckley gave a good glimpse into the period and there was no nonsense about moral equivalence between the Soviets and the US which was of course still a popular perspective in the mid 70's when this novel was written.
What did however disappoint me was the way the plot came together for the climax of the novel. Without giving away anything, let me just say that Buckley created a situation in which the reader is expected to believe can only be resolved in one ingenious way which of course puts Oakes at grave risk. However, I could think of many ways to resolve the situation without any risk to Oakes and even accomplishing the purpose more effectively. This definitely took away from the climatic scene as I couldn't help but think it was too contrived.
Nonetheless, I enjoyed the book and will occasionally return to Oakes.
P.S. What others have said about the performance containing strange seconds of silence is true, but I really didn't find this detracted significantly from my enjoyment of the novel. In fact, after a while I stopped noticing it.
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