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