THE REPUBLICAN senator from Maine and his Democratic colleague from Colorado have produced what must be the world's first bipartisan thriller. That novelty alone should guarantee The Double Man a wide readership. But would the book sell if its senior author were named, say, Edward Moore instead of Gary Hart? Though I am not a thriller buff, I suspect the answer is yes, for The Double Man is as crammed with surprises as a rigged box of Cracker Jacks. Set in such savory locales as the Senate pool, Miami, Amsterdam, Venice, London, and Moscow; laced with cinematically rendered murders and mayhems, and steeped in the You-can't-trust-anybody atmosphere of paranoia that energizes so many spy films -- with all this going for it The Double Man can't miss. It has Movie written all over it.
The part of the tall handsome hero, Tom Chandler, a 48 -- or is it 47? -- year-old senator from Connecticut, seems destined for Gary Hart's friend, Warren Beatty. Have his visage in mind as I outline some of Senator Chandler's adventures; I did as I read The Double Man, and it added to my pleasure.
The novel opens with a grisly, realistically rendered incident: a terrorist attack, at night on Rock Creek Parkway, upon the wife, daughter-in-law, and grandson of the secretary of state:
"The last human sound in the night was the high, thin wail of Woodrow Wilson Harrold III. Then the rocket launcher roared, and the remains of the Secretary of State's limousine and its occupants rose fifteen feet into the air and disintegrated."
As we quickly discover, a Colonel Metrinko, a renegade KGB man, is behind this multiple assassination. Soon, an attempt is made on the life of the vice president; next, all over the world, our spies start getting bumped off. What is Metrinko's motive? The authors, both of whom have served on the Select Committee on Intelligence, advance a frighteningly informed hypothesis about the reason for killing intelligence agents.
"Maybe the Russian who was running this had discovered the key to destablization, the way to start World War III, Chandler thought. Spying was essential to predictability. Predictability was essential to stability. Stability was essential to survival. And intelligence was the glue holding it all together. Now some madman had apparently found the formula to dissolve it."
Is Robert Ludlum capable of such devilishly plausible ratiocination?
The spur of presidential ambitions, combined with the pleas of his close friend, the grieving secretary of state, prompt Senator Chandler, who sits on the Senate intelligence committee, to lead an investigation into the wave of terrorism. The director of the CIA, a sinister man named Trevor, is no help to him. Exasperated, the senator hits the director below the belt: "With all due respect, Mr. Trevor, I can get more information by reading The Washington Post."
Indeed, it is by means of advertisements in The Post that the senator comes into contact with a mysterious figure he dubs "Memory". In several creaking-floor nocturnal encounters, "Memory" inducts the senator (and the reader) into the mysteries of the plot. These mix the Kennedy assassination, a new deluge of drugs that is turning on all Miami, and the terrorism in an only partly probable gallimaufry of fact and fiction. It turns out that Memory may also be the missing father of Elaine Dunham, the senator's beautiful young assistant and love interest. Elaine, in turn, is a spy for CIA Director Trevor, who fears that the Senate investigation will somehow damage the Agency. To further complicate matters, somebody from the Senate seems to be passing secrets to the Soviets; and that, too, may be Elaine. Luckily, the plot uncoils so fast you don't have time to look through its holes.
Soon enough, Chandler has a clutch of formidable enemies after him -- the Mafia, the KGB, and the CIA. As his investigation threatens to reveal the more malodorous secrets of state, even some of his fellow senators turn against him. One in particular, an ultra anti- communist senator from California, who might just be the mole himself, blackens Chandler's character to a right-wing columnist eager to believe the worst about any senator investigating the CIA.
Thank God for Ms. Dunham! A weekend with her in the Shenandoah helps Chandler regain his imperiled balance; as does the odd visit to her Reston house. "Later, back at her house, they made love. It was fierce, two rivers of energy rushing together, gloriously powerfully. No words were needed." A pity the senators did not follow that last bit of advice.
Incidently, I did notice one sentence that betrayed dual authorship. Tellingly, it came in the senators' understandably ticklish treatment of Elaine Dunham. "And if she gave in to the urgings of her own body, her own heart, how could she know for certain that she wasn't answering her father's call for help?" That appositional phrase, "her own heart," seems to have been thrown in as a compromise. Let's imagine the circumstances of its composition:
"We've got to water this one down, Gary."
"Because if you leave that 'heart' out of there we'll lose women readers -- they'll think Elaine's feeling for Chandler is too crassly physical."
"Maybe you're right, Bill. On the other hand, I don't want to pander to special interest constituencies. . . . "
And so on through the long Capitol Hill night.
After numerous reverses in his personal as well as political fortunes, Chandler at last gets to the bottom of one mystery -- the KGB's motives for going berserk. Colonel Metrinko, it emerges, is a pure communist who wants to worsen relations between the superpowers in order to rid the Kremlin of those running dogs of imperialism (how one misses the old Maoist rhetoric of abuse!) responsible for d,etente. However, Chandler fails to unearth the mole in the Senate -- or is it CIA? -- and the reader comes away feeling slightly cheated. Happily, the last loop of the plot has Sequel written all over it, so before too long we can expect another installment from the senators. They plainly enjoyed producing this one.
Ever since it was revealed that Jack Kennedy was more a consultant to the book that won him a Pulitzer Prize than its author, one has approached the writings of political celebrities with caution. Senatorial speeches, senatorial thoughts -- we recognize that these do not all originate in the senatorial brain. But a senatorial thriller? Surely we are safe in assuming that the senators wrote every line. Which leaves us with a mystery as great as any contained in The Double Man. How on earth did Gary Hart ever find the time?