cover image The Once and Future Spy

The Once and Future Spy

Robert Littell. Bantam Books, $18.95 (294pp) ISBN 978-0-553-05751-5

This complex, layered tale of espionage pits members of the CIA against one another in an effort to stop an information leak concerning the construction and deployment of atomic devices. In Washington, Rear Admiral J. Pepper Toothacher is recalled from disgraced retirement to ``walk back the cat''--that is, trace the leak. He is joined by the brilliant but physically repulsive Wanamaker and a mathematical genius-cum-chauffeur named Huxstep. In New York, Silas Sibley, aka the Weeder, also engaged in secret work for the company, tracks phone calls across the nation from his SoHo loft and--in his spare time--indulges a passion for Revolutionary War heroes, particularly one legendary figure he coyly refers to as ``Nate.'' When Toothacher's operation closes in on the leak, the Weeder's world is abruptly shut down, and he, with his erratic but appealing sidekick Snow, takes flight--for reasons he shares with Nate. Littel blends history and espionage inventively, and his dialogue and prose resound with high wit. But the story remains obtuse, the historical subplot something of a giveaway. The result is funny and complex but a little silly. 50,000 first printing; $50,000 ad/promo. (May)