cover image A Very Private Plot: A Blackford Oakes Novel

A Very Private Plot: A Blackford Oakes Novel

William F. Buckley, JR.. William Morrow & Company, $20 (272pp) ISBN 978-0-688-12795-4

Smooth and skillful, but only mildly suspenseful, the 10th Blackford Oakes adventure brings the Cold War hero into the age of glasnost and beyond. The year is 1995. Senator Hugh Blanton, who is framing a bill that would effectively ban all covert intelligence activity, subpoenas the retired Oakes to give evidence about Cyclops, a Reagan-era CIA operation that supposedly nearly drove Gorbachev to start a nuclear war. Interspersed with the narrative of Oakes's adamant refusal to testify is the true story behind Cyclops, which involves Oakes's discovery in the mid-80s that a group of young Russian patriots plan to assassinate Gorbachev. He informs Reagan of the plot, creating interesting moral dilemmas for both men: Should the president warn the head of an enemy state? Given an order with which he disagrees, does Oakes obey, or remain loyal to his Agency contacts? Urbanely written, the novel has enough information about Oakes's past to satisfy newcomers to the series and plenty of Beltway subculture references (including an appearance by Buckley himself). The plotting is strong, the story interesting and enjoyable, but Buckley raises complex ethical issues only to skate over them. A little more depth would have made this genial novel truly compelling. (Jan.)