cover image Lucky Bastard

Lucky Bastard

Charles McCarry. Random House (NY), $24.95 (384pp) ISBN 978-0-679-44761-0

Former CIA man McCarry (The Tears of Autumn; Shelley's Heart) is a highly skilled storyteller--and sometime coauthor (Inner Circles, with Alexander Haig)--whose knowledge of agentry and Washington politics is extensive but lightly worn. His background has also given him a strong degree of cynicism, however, and that is the dominant quality of this highly readable tale. McCarry's antihero is Jack Adams, who believes he is the love child of JFK and a Navy nurse, and who is singled out by the KGB during his college days as a promising ""asset""--one, in fact, that rogue KGB man Peter believes could actually be placed in the Oval office as president. Jack is a charming fellow, a born liar but irresistibly likable, a compulsive womanizer without a thought or emotion that is not self-centered; ergo, according to McCarry, he's a master politician. With the aid of Morgan, a caricature of a leftist extremist woman of the 1960s, and boyhood buddy Larry, a college sports hero crippled by Vietnam, Jack works his way up the political ladder in his native Ohio until the top spot is within reach. Meanwhile, the Soviet Union is crumbling, the KGB is running for cover and just where do Peter's (and therefore Jack's) allegiances lie? It's a wonderfully promising premise for a thriller, and the novel moves along at a good clip. The reader is never sure, however, just how seriously McCarry intends his fable to be taken. There are elements of farcical satire at work here, some over-the-top cloak-and-dagger background that belongs in James Bond movies, some raunchy but cold-blooded sex and a windup more cynical than anything that has gone before it. It is this uncertainty of tone, wavering between acute, sophisticated observation and glib absurdity, that ultimately prevents the book from attaining the alarming power it occasionally suggests. Author tour. (July)