cover image A Bitter Peace

A Bitter Peace

Michael Peterson. Pocket Books, $24 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-671-72695-9

Diplomat Bradley Marshall, who-as depicted in Peterson's A Time of War (1990)-tried in the late 1960s to end the conflict in Vietnam, returns for another go. Now it's 1972, and Marshall is asked by Nixon and Kissinger to persuade the South Vietnamese to sign the peace treaty that ultimately will leave them defenseless. In Saigon, Marshall runs afoul of CIA agent Wilson Lord, an old nemesis, when he is approached by a North Vietnamese diplomat who has conclusive proof of General Giap's secret plans to overwhelm the South once the Americans are gone. The narrative then jumps ahead six years. As the Shah of Iran lies dying of cancer, Marshall is sent by Jimmy Carter to Paris in order to contact the Ayatollah Khomeini. Once again, Marshall comes up against Lord, as well as a man who wants revenge for something the diplomat did in Saigon six years before. These two plot lines are structured to highlight well-portrayed conflicts among duty, honor, patriotism and personal loyalty. Narrative flow is impeded, however, by other, melodramatic elements-Marshall's family problems, the revenge plot. Peterson seems to be trying to do for recent U.S. history what Alexandre Dumas did for the history of France-to ennoble and illuminate it through a dramatic ``secret history'' that portrays the truth behind the facts. It's a mission he performs well, when he sticks to the political; it's only when the personal takes over that his storytelling falls flat. (Mar.)