On Last Call For Blackford Oakes by William F. Buckley, Jr.

“Three hours later Blackford lay on his bed, the yellow light from the little picture lamp hanging opposite only just reaching her eyes, closed, her breasts softly shaping the sheet that stretched toward Harry Doubleday. But the light didn’t reach his sex and the long, light fingers that enveloped it. His lips came together only enough to say her name. She responded by a a further caress. His joy was unbounded, miraculous.” (87)

No, that is not a menage a trois you just saw described – Blackford Oakes is Harry Doubleday, and the CIA special agent who once shagged the Queen of England has just tumbled into bed with a beautiful Russian urologist who at one point deigns to be an expert in erectile dysfunction. Ol’ Blackie’s checkup seems to have gone well. All in all it’s a pretty good yarn. The plot centers on the dirty deeds done by one Kim Philby towards the end of his career as an exile in the Soviet Union (maybe ‘exile’ is a misnomer, as the USSR really was his true home) and Blackford Oakes’ various attempts to thwart the notorious agent from MI6 long after he’d dropped any pretense of being ‘double’. Sometimes Oakes even succeeds, in spite of such blunders as actually sending a signed letter to the Philby household. Damn that crafty Red! Opening mail that wasn’t even his! Sealed mail, at that. Well, it costs Ol’ Blackie dearly, and we thereafter witness his rapid decline into a vortex of unshaven despondency fueled by alcohol, from which he is able to extricate himself only by assigning to himself the singular task of taking out the Cold War’s most nefarious spy.

The descriptions of U.S./Soviet diplomacy, especially with regard to an important defection, is very good and makes one nostalgic for the good old days when we had one clearly defined Evil Empire to deal with. Best of all are various cameos by such literary luminaries as Carlos Fuentes and Graham Greene. I’m not sure how seriously we’re to take the ending, since Oakes is known to have appeared before a Senate committee in the mid-nineties. Perhaps his author is smiling somewhere.

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