Tim Powers

    "Good," she said softly over her shoulder. "You were born to this." Born to this, he thought, had childhood dreams about this, nightmares.

The Great Game, Kipling called it, meaning Secret Service, Special Operatives, SIS, M15. When he was but a tad in English public school Andrew Hale, our hero, is inducted to the world of espionage by James Theodora. You remember Theodora: "his weathered jaw and nose were prominent like granite outcroppings on a cliff face." Old Granite-face asks the boy if he can kill a bluebottle fly "with your will alone. Can you kill the fly just by looking at it?" I dunno, says the kid. Then Theodora turns and stabs a letter-opener "into his own left thigh." Dr. Strangelove meets Her Majesty's Secret Service.

Kim Philby turns up (he has a stutter), as does the KGB and the Communist Party. Hale is paired up with the lovely Elena --- Elena Ceniza-Bendiga no less --- in Paris, during the Nazi occupation. They dig up some radios with which to broadcast to Moscow, they walk down the streets of Nazi-occupied Paris with radios in hand, no one noticing, and he has a mystical experience (the angels of the aether?) while sending Morse Code from a garret. They do the spy-love bed-wrestle thing and afterwards Elena Ceniza-Bendiga gives him the politics-over-love lecture, lest passion get to be too much of a bother to their political quest:

    Tears still streaked her face, but her expression was blank. "I would sooner try on the river bottom, and breathe water like the fishes, than disobey my masters."

Ah, to have the doubtfree set of the Comintern:

    "If it is their will that I be shot in the Lubyanka cellars in Moscow, then that is my will too. You and I will not see each other again, I think."

"To breathe water like the fishes..." "You and I will not see each other again, I think..."

There, too, are secret operatives to be dealt with in Egypt:

    "Do you visit Cairo often?" Hale asked.

    "Dogs can hear things that people cannot," said din Jalawi, staring down at the radio console.

And then, a moment of the Middle Eastern truth --- in the style of Edward Fitzgerald, or perhaps King James of Biblical fame, din Jalawi says,

    "When thine enemy extends his hand to thee, cut it off if thou canst, else kiss it."

Declare is chock-a-block full of these literary runes, as well as fallen Catholics, a whole kingdom of fallen angels, seductive nuns in Palestine, the Dead Sea Scrolls, T. E. Lawrence, and I quote, "gritty Cold War espionage." However, alas, some of us can't get het up by novels that have as much trouble getting out of bed as this one.

As far as I can see, the most that Powers is able to do is to set us to worrying about our peers in the book-bobble trade. Amidst the many plaudits fore and aft, Declare declares that it's printed on acid-free paper, it possible that our review copies were printed on acid-infused paper that did something funny to the likes of Dean Koontz, William Gibson, the folks at Kirkus, Publisher's Weekly, Library Journal? All of them claim to have gone gaga over this 500 page slumgullion of overwriting and terrible plotting. If there was a free hit somewhere around page fifteen, they may have got the trip of a lifetime. Me? All I got was this lousy tee-shirt that says,

Cut it off if thou canst,
else kiss it.

--- Ignacio Schwartz

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