Picks and Pans Review: The Spanish Gambit

updated 08/26/1985 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/26/1985 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Stephen Hunter

This spy thriller is set in Spain in 1937. The population is overflowing with anarchists, fascists and Marxists. Germans are there with some fancy new weapons to try out. The Russians are the scariest of all, torturing and killing anyone they can get their hands on—especially each other. Back in London, the British secret service, then in its early days, believes that English poet and journalist Julian Raines is in Spain spying for the Soviets. A man named Robert Florry, a down-on-his-luck ex-cop, is blackmailed into going to Spain to kill the traitor. Florry and Raines knew each other at Eton, and the envious Florry hates the wealthy snob-turned-adventurer. On the ship to Barcelona, Florry meets a beautiful woman and a drunken old man, but watch out: No one in this novel is what he first appears to be. Hunter, a former book-review editor of the Baltimore Sun, has written two other thrillers, and he knows this genre thoroughly. While he has done plenty of research about Spain's civil war, he never lets historical facts slow down the slam-bang action. Early on there's a lot about the chess maneuver that gives the novel its title. Hunter wears out this game metaphor quickly, though, and just as well. He is no Le Carré, but The Spanish Gambit is a far better spy novel than any that, say, Robert Ludlum has written. (Crown, $15.95)

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