The Romantic Streak

A review of an early Blackford Oakes novel referred to Mr. Buckley's handling of a sex scene as the Hardy Boys go to a bordello. In this, the ninth book in the series, Buckley demonstrates a surer grasp, one might say, of such matters. There is a sense in which Oakes's missions for the CIA, reconstituted and romanticized from authentic events, are themselves a form of hankypanky. Buckley's James Bondish hero really knows how to fool around.

This time William F. Buckley, Jr., places his hero in harm's way with a story about the Vietnam War. As each adventure in the series brings us closer to the present day, Buckley loses some of the advantage of distance from the events being portrayed. Each of these novels contains large portions of contemporary history. He is most comfortable portraying the great, imagining what passes for small talk in their councils. There is an almost slapstick quality whenever President Johnson is on stage, and no one who reads this novel will ever forget (no matter how hard he might try) the description of LBJ in the nude. Buckley displays a genuine affection for Barry Goldwater, and some of his funniest dialogue is reserved for exchanges between Mr. Conservative and his handlers. He finds irresistible the temptation to recycle one-liners and clever editorial commentary from National Review and to place them in the mouths of his political characters.

The only trouble with...

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