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"Write out of love, write out of instinct, write out of reason. But always for money."
Louis Untermeyer

The Story of Henri Tod

By William F. Buckley Jr.
Doubleday, 254 pp, 1983

It is August 1961. Rumors are swirling that Kruschev is about to partition Berlin. President Kennedy, still smarting from the Bay of Pigs disaster, orders the CIA to find out what Kruschev is up to.

Enter Blackford Oakes, super-spy, who travels to Berlin and contacts a group of German dissidents, the Bruderschaft, headed by the brilliant thirty-three year-old Henri Tod. Throw in an idealistic young couple, one of whom is a mole (and nephew) of the Chairman of the Council of State of the German Democratic Republic, Walter Ulbricht, a long-lost sister of Henri Tod who was taken to Auschwitz in World War II, and some entertaining ruminations by JKF, and you end up with another charming, witty and thrilling novel by William F. Buckley Jr.

Long-time Buckley readers are very familiar with Blackford Oakes, of course. Buckley devoted several novels to the quick-thinking spy. The Story of Henri Tod was written in 1983, and is the fifth Oakes novel. However, the books are relatively new to me, and I am reading them one by one, in the order written, just as if they were brand new.

Best-known for his political commentary, Buckley writes a great novel, sleek and well-paced, with endearing characters and devious Cold War machinations and politics. Henri Tod is no exception. In fact, it is the best Oakes novel yet, mainly because of the underlying tragedy of the Berlin Wall. The reader feels that Buckley was outraged at the time, and in the book even quotes an editorial from his magazine National Review, in which he promises the Soviets that the U.S. will fight to maintain a free and undivided Berlin. Sadly, he was wrong about that, and expresses his sentiments through Oakes, who tells his superior when informed that JKF will not send in the tanks: “Whittaker Chambers died last month. I think he was right that he left the winning side to join the losing side.”

The novel ends with the tragedy of the Berlin Wall, as well as personal ones. It is a thoroughly delightful, if sobering, experience.

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