The RED FOX | Anthony Hyde

Some first novels arrive from nowhere and become milestones in their genres, touchstones to understanding the world through specific stories. Anthony Hyde's first novel, THE RED FOX (1986), is such a book. When journalist Robert Thorne's ex-fiancee, May Brightman, asks him to locate her missing father, Thorne is wary. Years ago, May broke their engagement and cut Thorne adrift. Since then, he's moved on. Despite himself, reluctantly, he agrees to search for Harry. Soon, he discovers that Harry wasn't your ordinary fiance's father. His background is as dark, conflicted and dangerous as any in contemporary fiction. Others are after Harry, too. Thorne is savvy. He knows that he is in over his head, and yet he follows the trail of clues anyway.

Evocative of time, place, character and motivation, THE RED FOX provides a strong sense of presence in a world dominated by Cold War espionage. Hyde's deft literary hand displays the discipline and attitude of the journalist. His voice is often energetic, sometimes self-deprecating, always erudite. A remarkable achievement for a first novel.

Another Time

Hyde published this novel just after John Le Carre's THE LITTLE DRUMMER GIRL swept the market and advanced Le Carre's already iconic standing as a master novelist. Robert Ludlum's BOURNE SUPREMACY also came to bookstores that year. The average life was overshadowed by superpower tensions and yet change was in the wind. Whether for the better or the worse remained to be seen. Terror came from just two polarized political systems and their overwhelming national firepower. An entirely different world environment from the more complicated, fragmented terror we know today.

The story of THE RED FOX grows from diverse and intense emotions - anger, hurt, betrayal - and is delivered with a constancy that derives from a deeply embedded moral compass. It is visual and tactile and was a feast for readers of the late 1980's who were navigating the changeable cultural seas between the pre- and post-Internet revolutions. Written in the pre-Internet time period, it is satisfying to re-experience the journalist's life pre-Google and pre-smartphone, to be reminded of the discipline and skills required to ferret out disparate bits of information, connect the dots and develop understanding at a comparatively reflective pace. And yet, events move on apace and we are pulled from page to page, setting to sinister setting.

The Red Fox

The LITTLE DRUMMER GIRL | John Le Carre

John Le Carré's tenth novel, The Little Drummer Girl (1983), set the bar for tackling the passions and persistent complexities of the "Palestinian problem."  It presented the big picture issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by means of specific personal crises and moments of life-and-death will.

The Plot

Fed up with cautious politicians and bureaucrats, Israeli intelligence officer, Martin Kurtz, gathers a small army of spies, malcontents, specialists, master operators-in-training, schemers, and fierce veterans of dark deeds behind the news headlines to craft an elaborate, complex mission to snare a Palestinian terror mastermind.

Kurtz's most trusted associate is Gadi Becker, a seasoned warrior veteran of every Israeli success of the last 20 years.

At the heart of their scheme is Charlie, a bright, young, unresolved English actress of uncertain distinction. They attract her interest while she is on holiday in Greece with fellow troupers, a largely dissolute lot.

A dark mystery man she comes to know as Joseph (Gadi Becker) sweeps her off her feet and shows her a more intriguing and mysterious life. Soon, Charlie is brought into Kurtz' fold and offered a chance to make a difference in the theater of the real.

Trained and prepared for the terrible loneliness of deep cover work beyond the protection of her elite team, Charlie becomes the bait that gradually attracts Khalil, the terrorist, to her in ever cautious, ever closing circles through a progression of dedicated soldiers of the Palestinian cause, each more adept and committed than the last. Finally, Charlie is tested by Khalil, who involves her in the assassination of a prominent Jewish intellectual.

Afterwards, when Khalil trusts her, and takes her for himself, he becomes distrustful and is about to kill Charlie when...

Casts a Spell

Rather than spoil the ending for you, I'll stop there.  If you haven't already, read this minor classic of the spy genre. We have seen the effects of the irreconcilable claims by Israelis and Palestinians to the same small area of land astride the eastern Mediterranean. LeCarré brings the passions, vexing contradictions, and cultural imperatives alive. The characters are fully realized.  The settings are sensory-rich. The plot has enough switchbacks and chicanes to keep the most demanding reader turning pages.  And it casts a spell by hewing closely to emotional truth.

The Little Drummer Girl was published in 1983.  Hodder & Stoughton (UK), Alfred A. Knopf (US).  ISBN 0-394-53015-2 (US hardback)   George Roy Hill directed the feature film adaptation in 1984, which starred Diane Keaton (Charlie),  Klaus Kinski (Kurtz), and Yorgo Voyakis (Gadi/Joseph).

The Little Drummer Girl: A Novel