HRF Keating, author and former chairman of the Crime Writers Association reviews Morris West's latest novel which explores the sinister world of terrorism.
Proteus by Morris West (Collins £4.95)
I confidently predict that the new Morris West, although scarcely yet on the bookstalls, will be a best-seller. It has action and excitement, a plentiful ration of' sexual relations; above all, it is swishingly readable.
More..lt has a theme perhaps as important as any open to the novelist today — political prisoners and torture. And not only this. It takes that already tremendous subject and lunges deeper, to the age-old clash of philosophies between "an eye for an eye" and "the other cheek".
However, a best-seller is invariably a bad book. Which is not to say — I leaven be praised — that some good books don't sell well. But the best-seller (as here) is a work of fiction .produced so as to be undemanding.
Thus, major elements are introduced merely for their striking effectiveness. Mr West's hero, an American mega-tycoon with an Italian background, is given the easy name John Spada (John Sword).
The secret benevolent organisation he runs gets the dramatic title "Proteus" so that the image of the many-formed seagod can be used later for quick dramatic effect. In a real novel images spring from the theme instead of being slapped on to it.
But Mr West will name a character the Scarecrow Man, which sounds good and spooky, with no particular relevance. Similarly, by inflating his language he gives the reader the feeling of being marched upwards by a high seriousness.
"It was a long, punishing day," he says of his tycoon's work, "an ' exercise in emoery." Empery. My dictionary sharply labels the
word: (poet). And poetical too are "commonality", "evulsion", and "poursuivants and inquisitors" (pursuers and interrogators to you and me).
The whole effect is of glossiness that which slips along and looks dazzling. Lush settings all over the world contribute, the Rome family dinner with of course a cardinal present, the German who refers to "my old friend Hans Koenig," the theologian.
And to achieve easiness you must generalise. which is to tell less truth.
It's not only profoundsounding, but it gets in sex — as Mr West, who knows what attracts, does every 20 pages or so. But it is sex used just to hold the reader, not to give us insights into that morass-dotted territory.
Yet the book will be much read — and liked, alas. What it won't do. I bet, is gain a single shilling for Amnesty, a single voter against tyranny. So ought Mr West to be allowed to make entertainment out of a mighty theme? Well, we can't stop him. All we can do is review him.