Formosa Straits

by Anthony Hyde,
241 pages,
ISBN: 0679440399

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Brief Reviews - Fiction
by Roger Mason

LIKE THE playwrights -indeed like all the writers -- who followed Shakespeare, and whose work is constantly measured against that superlative, those who write genre thrillers must always be aware of the looming shadow of John Le Carre and The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. Like it or not, that is their yardstick, and few have measured up to it successfully, including, on the evidence of Formosa Straits (Viking, 241 pages, $23 paper), Anthony Hyde. Hyde made some ripples with his previous novel, The Red Fox, but he is unlikely to make any waves with this latest thriller.

Nick Lamp is a young and quite attractive wheeler-dealer in the Far East (the kind of fellow who might have destroyed a noble and historic banking emporium himself). He makes a business visit to Cao Dai, an underworld boss, whom he finds dead on the floor of the love nest the gangster used to entertain young prostitutes.

Thus begins an improbable yam in which Lamp becomes the lead suspect in a story of cheating, business spying, and very badly behaved men and women. The denouement hinges on unravelling the relationships between Cao Dai, Lamp's father, events in pre-war Shanghai, and a host of other details.

Formosa Straits rattles along, and if you don't mind formula writing and wooden dialogue, not to mention some pretty two-dimensional characterization, it might make a passable holiday read. Or you could try The Thin Man or Brighton Rock, assuming that you're already acquainted with Alec Leamas, Le Carre's prototypical spy.


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