An Inch of Time by Ian Weston-Smith, Book Guild, £15
TIE TITLE OF IAN WestonSmith's powerful new novel derives from the Chinese proverb: "An inch of time cannot be bought with an inch of gold". Time Is indeed of the essence, as the narrative swings expertly between the chaotic closing days of World War II, and high politics and espionage of today's uncertain world. Scores of characters fill the pages, with colourful backgrounds and far-flung places finely etched in. The author's grasp of contemporary history is impressive, and allusions to yesterday's history and today's politics weave through the story as naturally as world news through a television studio.
It would not do to give away the plot, which fizzes along in the fast-moving tradition of Erskine Childers and John Buchan. Perhaps the most striking aspect of the story is its topicality. Boris Yeltsin occupies a chapter to himself, mingling with characters who are apparently fictional, though it is hard to be sure. A gigantic plan is afoot, involving nothing less than a secret atomic weapons deal between hardline Soviet generals and Saddam Hussein. Meanwhile, a dangerously isolationist United States is reluctantly drawn back into the European maelstrom. Will Clinton establish a new Marshall Plan, this time restoring both Germany and Russia to economic and political health? Nothing in An Inch of Tine is ever quite as it appears to be, especially so far as the Americans are concerned, and the reader will have to be extremely alert if he is not to be constantly surprised at every turn in the ingeniouslycontrived labyrinth, where hunter and quarry repeatedly shift roles.
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