The Upper Hand

Stuart Hood, Author Carcanet Press, $16.95 (186p) ISBN 978-0-85635-719-0
Spanning the Depression years to the 1960s, this psychological spy story focuses on intelligence expert John Melville's preoccupation with (and jealousy of) Colin Elphinstone, whom he suspects of clandestine activities. Melville and Elphinstone met as youngsters in Scotland and even then they were polar opposites: the former middle-class, innocuous, and complacent; the latter evidencing a genteel background, good looks, and the assurance bred of great ambition. Both attend Edinburgh University, where Melville is recruited to report on Elphinstone, now a prominent campus leftist. Trained in military intelligence, Melville finds himself stationed in Germany immediately following World War II, where he meets the peripatetic Elphinstone, who has remained politically outspoken. As their lives continue on parallel tracks, Melville becomes editor of a magazine of political analysis and Elphinstone achieves fame at the BBC. Meanwhile, Melville seeks the answer to a disquieting question: did Elphinstone disclose the existence of a secret tunnel being dug beneath the Berlin Wall by those wishing to escape to the West? A disappointing lack of tension and conflict removes this novel from the thriller genre to one of character case study, but it is a serious, interesting look at the psychological makeup of an espionage-oriented personality. (September 28)
Reviewed on: 12/01/1987
Release date: 12/01/1987
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