Columnist Writes Tale Of Cold War Days
Last Call for Blackford Oakes
By William F. Buckley Jr.
Harcourt, 2006, $14
The Cold War was winding down in the late 1980s, but few people, especially the Communist Party spy network, were aware that radical change was around the corner.
Blackford Oakes, a fictional CIA agent styled by William F. Buckley Jr., is called back into service in 1987 when President Reagan gets wind of another plot to assassinate Mikhail Gorbachev.
It is an older and more reflective Oakes who travels to Moscow this time. The death of his wife has dampened his zeal for the world of intrigue.
Oakes quickly recovers when he meets a challenging and much younger physician with whom he falls in love. Their love affair becomes serious, and he is already making plans for marriage, including arrangements for her defection to the United States, when tragedy strikes.
The master spy soon learns, to his dismay, that a friend of his lover has married a man whom he detests. The hated bridegroom is none other than Kim Philby, probably the most notorious traitor to the British government.
Remember, these are the days before an easing of political hostilities between the United States and the Soviet Union, and the KGB is still much in evidence. Gorbachev was just beginning to let in some light from the West.
The intrigue that follows is somewhat slow-paced, but action picks up toward the end of this tale of murder and betrayal. Despite his experience as a columnist and novelist, Buckey has a stilted, almost self-conscious writing style at times.
At other times he is quite entertaining. The story is a name dropper with cameo appearances by such noted celebrities as novelist Graham Greene, former CIA Director Bill Webster, actor Gregory Peck, former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, President and Mrs. Reagan and Gorbachev himself.
One conversation between Ronald Reagan and First Lady Nancy Reagan is humorous as they discuss North Carolina's venerable but now retired Senator Jesse Helms.
They are discussing a peace treaty that Helms, the legendary "Senator No," opposes.
"Jesse would oppose a treaty with the Soviets banning poison ivy," is the president's dry comment to his wife.
This is a paperback reprint of the novel first published in 2005.
Buckley is the founder of National Review and was longtime host of the Firing Line television program. The syndicated columnist lives in Connecticut.
Florence Gilkeson may be reached at email@example.com.
More like this story