The Prodigal Spy

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Overview

Washington, 1950. The trouble with history, Nick Kotlar's father tells him, is that you have to live through it before you know how it'll come out. And for Walter Kotlar, a high-level State Department official, the stakes couldn't be higher: an ambitious congressman has accused him of treason. As Nick watches helplessly, his family's privileged world is turned upside down in a frenzy of klieg lights and banging gavels. Then one snowy night the chief witness against his father plunges to her death and his father ...
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Overview

Washington, 1950. The trouble with history, Nick Kotlar's father tells him, is that you have to live through it before you know how it'll come out. And for Walter Kotlar, a high-level State Department official, the stakes couldn't be higher: an ambitious congressman has accused him of treason. As Nick watches helplessly, his family's privileged world is turned upside down in a frenzy of klieg lights and banging gavels. Then one snowy night the chief witness against his father plunges to her death and his father flees, leaving only an endless mystery and the stain of his defection. It would be better, Nick is told, to think of him as dead. But 20 years later Walter Kotlar is still alive, and he enlists Molly, a young journalist, to bring Nick a disturbing message. He badly wants to see his son; after two decades of silence and isolation, he is desperate to end his own Cold War. Resentful but intrigued, Nick agrees to accompany Molly to Soviet-occupied Czechoslovakia for the painful reunion. Once in Prague, Nick finds a clandestine world where nothing is what it seems - not the beautiful city, shadowy with menace; not the woman with whom he falls in love; and most of all not the man he thinks he no longer knows, yet still knows better than anyone. For Walter Kotlar has an impossible request: he wants to come home and he wants Nick to help. He also has a valuable secret about what really happened the night he walked out of Nick's life - and about the deadly conspiracy that still threatens them.
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
What would have happened if the McCarthy-era communist witch-hunts actually uncovered a spy? That's the provocative premise behind The Prodigal Spy, the second stellar offering from Joseph Kanon, whose auspicious debut, Los Alamos, won a prestigious Edgar Award.
Tom Nolan
Mr. Kanon displays superb abilities to create compelling sequences and intriguing characters. . . The Prodigal Spy reads beautifully and convinces utterly. -- The Wall Street Journal
Marion Ettinger
Kanon wonderfully conveys the paranoia of the times&#151and the toll it took on children....The audio tape wonderfully conveys the tension of living in a Communist country recently invaded by the Russians...The Prodigal Spy has a richness of emotional layers usually not found in espionage novels. And Gaines is a wizard with those Czech accents. -- USA Today
Los Angeles Times
Kanon blows heat into [the] Cold War.
Denver Post
Captivating...poignant and eminently believable.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
What he does the best is to turn more than a few moments in our history into a personal story that shows the reality of what we have done and can do to each other.
John Ellis
Emotionally rich and confidently told...combines expansive powers of observation with keen moral intelligence.
Boston Globe
J.D. Reed
...Witty, tense and vivid prose...
People Magazine
Steve Nemmers
...[O]ne is treated to a very pleasant piece of recent history with an added hypothesis....This book is particularly well suited for the reader who enjoys mystery, but has tired of the technical overlay (e.g. medicine, law; military) which so often accompanies the modern suspense novel. If there are any acronyms or technical terms in this novel, they are totally transparent. This is merely a very good story of good, evil, and many shades in-between.
The Mystery Reader.com
Library Journal
Suppose Sen. Joseph McCarthy, HUAC, and other loyalty investigators had actually unearthed a Communist spy during those pyrotechnic years from 1950 to 1954? And suppose this spy had disappeared and was not heard from until 1969, when through mysterious means he communicates from Prague with his grown son and tells him he wishes to return to the United States. On this premise, Kanon has constructed a literate, swiftly paced thriller. As in Los Alamos LJ 3/15/97, he again demonstrates his ability to tell a story and make his characters come alive. There is suspense, expertly built up; a love interest, in the most approved contemporary fashion; and action, in the classic spy tradition. The political climate of Washington in the 1950s and the atmosphere of suspicion and fear in Prague under the Soviets feel real. A treat for crime fans who appreciate blithe and brittle writing.--A.J. Anderson, GSLIS, Simmons Coll., Boston
Morton Kondracke
...[M[oderately engrossing....establishes Nick's aptitude for spying in the first chapter....Nick and Molly [are] an attractive pair of adventurers... -- The New York Times Book Review
J.D. Reed
...[W]itty, tense and vivid prose... -- People Magazine
Steve Nemmers
...[O]ne is treated to a very pleasant piece of recent history with an added hypothesis....This book is particularly well suited for the reader who enjoys mystery, but has tired of the technical overlay (e.g. medicine, law; military) which so often accompanies the modern suspense novel. If there are any acronyms or technical terms in this novel, they are totally transparent. This is merely a very good story of good, evil, and many shades in-between.
The Mystery Reader.com
John Ellis
Emotionally rich and confidently told...combines expansive powers of observation with keen moral intelligence. -- The Boston Globe
Los Angeles Times
Kanon blows heat into [the] Cold War.
Denver Post
Captivating...poignant and eminently believable.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
What he does the best is to turn more than a few moments in our history into a personal story that shows the reality of what we have done and can do to each other.
Kirkus Reviews
Edgar Award-winning Kanon (Los Alamos) returns with a Cold War spy tale. Opening with a chilling recreation of the Red Scare days of the early '50s, the story soon leads to the questioning of one Walter Kotlar by the House Un-American Activities Committee. Kotlar, as the reader knows instinctively, can't be a spy—but when a woman scheduled to testify before the committee is murdered, Kotlar enigmatically flees the country overnight, leaving behind his wife and confused young son, Nick. Not long after, he turns up on newsreels from Moscow as nothing less than a prize defector. Twenty years pass, until Nick is an embittered, restless Vietnam vet during the time of the Paris peace negotiations. His father's old boss, who married Nick's mother and adopted Nick, is one of the negotiators. This man meets Nick in England to settle some money on him, and almost simultaneously, mystery woman Molly Chisholm contacts Nick to tell him that his real father is living in Czechoslovakia, sick and desperate to see his son before he dies. But only Nick is exactly what he seems to be: Molly's actually a relative of the murdered woman from long ago; Walter Kotlar is indeed dying, but wants to return to the U.S. to reveal what happened to cause his defection; and even Nick's stepfather may be a double-agent. Dodging spies and FBI agents on both sides of the Iron Curtain, Nick gradually assumes his father's mission, rooting out Reds and murderers at the highest levels of government. Even J. Edgar Hoover puts in an appearance. John le Carré and Graham Greene come to mind as the standard-bearers, though Kanon lacks the latter's high style and pitiless worldview. This time around, too, thelove story that so distinguished Los Alamos seems contrived. Still, Kanon is very good.
From the Publisher
"An edgy spy thriller...[and] a tale of love—between father and son, man and woman—set against a foreboding background that is poignant and imminently believable....Captivating."—Denver Post

"Compelling...intriguing...superb....reads beautifully and convinces utterly."—Wall Street Journal

"Intriguing...Kanon wonderfully conveys the paranoia of the times....The Prodigal Spy has a richness of emotional layers usually not found in espionage novels." —USA Today

"Vivid...tense...reheats the Cold War with history, mystery and a political blast from the past."—People

"Kanon does a fine job...blending history, fiction, suspense and romance...but what he does the best is to turn more than a few moments in our history into a personal story that shows the reality of what we have done and can do to each other."—Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780553456363
  • Publisher: Random House Audio Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 12/29/1998
  • Format: CD
  • Edition description: Abridged, 5 CDs, 6 hrs.
  • Product dimensions: 5.67 (w) x 4.92 (h) x 0.95 (d)

Meet the Author

Joseph Kanon

After a distinguished career in book publishing, Joseph Kanon turned to writing fiction. He is the author of Los Alamos, a New York Times bestseller that won the Edgar Award for Best First Novel in 1997. He lives in New York City.

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Read an Excerpt

FEBRUARY 1950

He was not allowed to attend the hearing. There was his age, for one thing, but he knew it was really the reporters. From his bedroom window he could see them every morning when his father left the house. Mr. Benjamin, his father's lawyer, would come for him--it was somehow unthinkable that he should make the short walk down 2nd Street to the Capitol alone--and the minute they were down the steps Nick would see the clusters of hats swooping toward them like birds. There was even a kind of ritual about it now. No one stood in front of the house. Usually they were across the street, or on the corner, drinking coffee from paper cups, exhaling little puffs of steam in the cold February air. Then the front door would open and they would stamp out their cigarettes, suddenly on duty, and surround his father, falling into step with him and Mr. Benjamin as if they were joining them for a stroll.

In the beginning there had been photographers, their hats pushed back on their heads as they popped flashbulbs, but now there were just the reporters. No one yelled or pushed. The ritual had turned polite. He could see his father in his long herringbone coat drawing the pack with him as he moved down the street, Mr. Benjamin, terrier-like, hurrying to keep up. His father never ignored the reporters. Nick could see him talking--but what did he say?--and nodding his head. Once Nick saw one of them laugh. His father had said the whole thing was a goddam circus, but from up here in the window, watching the hats, it seemed friendly, a gang of boys heading for school. It wasn't, though. At night, alone in the study, smoking in the light of the desk lamp, his father lookedworried.

His mother always left separately. She would busy herself with Nora, arranging the day, then stand in front of the hall mirror, touching her hair, smoothing out her wool skirt, while a cigarette burned in the ashtray on the table where they put the mail. When Nick came downstairs she would look surprised, as if she had forgotten he was in the house, then nervously pick up her lipstick to get ready. Her new dress, with its tight cinched waist and fitted top, seemed designed to hold her upright, every piece of her in place.

"Have they gone?" she said, putting on the lipstick.

"Uh-huh. Dad made one of them laugh."

Her hand stopped for a minute, then the red tube continued along her lip. "Did he," she said, blotting her lips, but it wasn't a question. "Well, I'll give them another five minutes."

"They never wait for you, you know," Nick said. It was one of the things that puzzled him. His mother walked to the hearings alone every day, not even a single straggler from the pack of hats waiting behind to catch her. How did they think she got there?

"They will one day," she said, picking up her hat. "Right now all they can think about is your father. And his jokes." She caught the edge in her voice and glanced at him, embarrassed, then went back to the hat.

"There was only one," Nick said.

"I know," she said quietly. "I didn't mean-- Check the window again, would you? And shouldn't you be getting ready for school?"

"I am ready," he said, going over to the window. "I don't see why I can't go to the trial."

"Not again, Nicky, please. And it's not a trial. For the hundredth time. It's a hearing. That's all. A congressional hearing."

"What's the difference?"

"Your father's not a criminal, that's the difference. He's not on trial for anything."

"Everybody acts like he is."

"What do you mean? Has anyone said anything to you at school?"

Nick shrugged.

"Have they?"

"They said he's on trial for being a Communist."

His mother stopped fixing the hat and lowered her hands. "Well, he's not on trial and he's not a Communist. So much for what they know. Just don't listen, okay? It only makes it worse. They're looking for Communists, so they have to talk to a lot of people in the government, that's all."

Nick came back to the mirror, studying them both, as if the world reflected would be his mother's cheerful dream of before, when all they had to worry about was school gossip.

"They want to hear what he has to say. That's why it's called a hearing. There," she said, pressing the hat like a protective shell. "How do I look?"

Nick smiled. "Beautiful."

"Oh, you always say that," she said lightly, glancing at the mirror again and leaning forward. Nick loved to watch her dress, disappearing to the edge of her careful absorption. It was the harmless vanity of a pretty girl who'd been taught that how you looked mattered, that appearance could somehow determine events. She blotted her lips one last time, then noticed his expression. "Honeybun, what's wrong?"

"Why can't I hear him too? I'm not a little kid anymore."

"No," she said softly, touching the side of his head. "Maybe just to me. But ten isn't very old either, is it? You don't want to grow up too fast."

"Is he going to go to jail?"

She knelt down to face him, holding his shoulders. "No. Look, I know all of this seems confusing. But it's not about you, do you understand? Just--grownups. Your dad's fine. You don't want him to have to worry about you too, do you? It's--it's a bad time, that's all."

A bad time. Nora, for whom Ireland was always just a memory away, called it troubles. "Before your father's troubles started," she would say, as if everything that was happening to them were beyond their control, like the weather. But no one would tell him what it actually was.

"You go," he said stubbornly.

"It's different for me. You're just a child--it has nothing to do with you. It's not going to, either. I'm not going to let that happen," she said, holding his shoulders tightly. "Do you understand?"

He didn't, but he nodded, surprised at the force of her hands.

"You'll be late," Nora said, coming into the hall.

His mother looked up, distracted. "Yes, all right. Come on, honeybun, time for school. It'll be all right. You'll see. This won't last much longer, I promise. Then we'll go up to the cabin and forget all about it. Just us. Would you like that?"

Nick nodded. "You mean out of school?"

"Well, in the spring."

"Don't forget you've got Father Tim coming over later," Nora said. "You'll want to be back. Last time he was halfway through the bottle before you were through the door."

"Nora," his mother said, pretending to scold but laughing in spite of herself. "Listen to you. He's not a drinker."

"No, the poor are drinkers. The rich just don't mind if they do."

"He's not rich anymore. He's a priest, for heaven's sake," she said, putting on her coat.

"The rich don't change. Someone else's bottle, that's what they like. Maybe that's why they're rich. Still, it's your bottle, and if you don't mind I'm sure I--"

"Nora, stop babbling. I'll be back. Coast clear?" She nodded her head toward the window. "How about a kiss, then?" She leaned down to let Nick graze her cheek. "Oh, that's better. I'm ready for anything now."

At the door she put on her gloves. "You remember what I said, okay? Don't listen to the other kids if they start saying things. They don't know what they're talking about anyway."

"It wasn't the other kids. About Dad. It was Miss Smith."

"Oh." His mother stopped, flustered, her shoulders sagging. "Oh, honeybun," she said, and then, as if she had finally run out of answers, she turned and went out the door.

After that, he didn't go to school. "At least for a while," his mother said, still pretending that things were normal. Now, after his parents left, the house would grow still, so quiet that he would tiptoe, listening for the sharp whistle of Nora's kettle in the kitchen, then the rustle of newspaper as she pored over his father's troubles with one of her cups of tea. He was supposed to be reading Kidnapped. His mother said he was the right age for it, but after the wicked uncle and the broken stairs in the dark it all got confusing--Whigs and Jacobites, and you didn't know whose side you were supposed to be on. It made no more sense than the papers. His father was a New Dealer but not a Communist, and not a Republican either, according to Nora. Then why was he on trial? Some terrible woman had said he was a spy, but you only had to look at her, all made up the way she was, to know she was lying. And a Catholic too, which made things worse. It was the Jews who loved Russia, not people like his father, even though she'd hate to think how long it had been since he'd seen the inside of a church. Still. And the things they said. But when Nick asked her to see the newspapers himself, she'd refuse. His mother wouldn't like it.

So he sat in the deep club chair in the living room, pretending to read but listening instead. While Nora had her tea there was no sound but the ticking of the ormolu clock. Soon, however, he'd hear the scraping of a chair in the kitchen, then the heavy steps in the hall as Nora came to peek in before she began her chores. Nick would turn a page, his head bent to the book he wasn't reading until he felt her slip out of the doorway and head upstairs. After another few minutes, the vacuum would start with a roar and he could go. He would race down the back kitchen stairs, careful not to hit the creaky fourth step, and get the newspaper from behind the bread box, where Nora always hid it. Then, one ear still alert to the vacuum, he would read about the trial. KOTLAR DENIES ALLEGATIONS. COMMITTEE THREATENS CONTEMPT. MUNDT SET TO CALL ACHESON. NEW KOTLAR TESTIMONY. It always gave him an odd sensation to see his name in print. His eye would flash down the column, "Kotlar" leaping out as if it were in boldface, not just another word in a blur of type. But it was Kidnapped all over again. Whigs and Jacobites.

The newspapers became part of the spy game. The point at first was to see how many rooms he could visit without Nora's knowing--from the kitchen up to his father's study, then past the bedroom where she was working (this was the best part) to his mother's dressing room, then back down the stairs (carefully now, the vacuum having gone silent) and into the club chair with the open book before she appeared again. Not that she would have cared if he'd left the room--it was just the game. Stuck in the house, cocooned against the cold outside that kept promising snow, he learned its secrets, the noisy parts, the bad floorboards, as if they were bits of Braille. He could even spy on Nora, watching through the crack in the door, crouching halfway down the stairs, until he felt he could roam the house at will, invisible. His father, he knew, could never have done this. You always knew where he was, clunking down the hall to the bathroom at night, all his weight on his heels. His mother said you could feel him a block away. It was Nick who knew how to spy. He could stand absolutely still, like one of those movie submarines with the motors off, on sonar silence, waiting to hear something.

Then one day, by accident, he finally saw his father at the hearing.
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First Chapter

PART 1
UN-AMERICAN

ACTIVITES
CHAPTER 1
February, 195O

He was not allowed to attend the hearing. There was his age, for one thing, but he knew it was really the reporters. From his bedroom window he could see them every morning when his father left the house. Mr. Benjamin, his lawyer, would come for him -- it was somehow unthinkable that he should make the short walk down 2nd Street to the Capitol alone -- and the minute they were down the steps Nick would see the clusters of hats swooping toward them like birds. There was even a kind of ritual about it now. No one stood in front of the house. Usually they were across the street, or on the corner, drinking coffee from paper cups, exhaling little puffs of steam in the cold February air. Then the front door would open and they would stamp out their cigarettes, suddenly on duty, and surround his father, falling into step with him and Mr. Benjamin as if they were joining them for a stroll.

In the beginning there had been photographers, their hats pushed back on their heads as they popped flashbulbs, but now there were just the reporters. No one yelled or pushed. The ritual had turned polite. He could see his father in his long herringbone coat drawing the pack with him as he moved down the street, Mr. Benjamin, terrier-like, hurrying to keep up. His father never ignored the reporters. Nick could see him talking -- but what did he say? -- and nodding his head. Once Nick saw one of them laugh. His father had said the whole thing was a goddam circus, but from up here in the window, watching the hats, it seemed friendly, a gang of boys heading for school. It wasn't, though. At night, alone in the study, smoking in the light of the desk lamp, his father looked worried.

His mother always left separately. She would busy herself with Nora, arranging the day, then stand in front of the hall mirror, touching her hair, smoothing out her wool skirt, while a cigarette burned in the ashtray on the table where they put the mail. When Nick came downstairs she would look up surprised, as if she had forgotten he was in the house, then nervously pick up her lipstick to get ready. Her new dress, with its tight cinched waist and fitted top, seemed designed to hold her upright, every piece of her in place.

"Have they gone?" she said, putting on the lipstick.

"Uh-huh. Dad made one of them laugh."

Her hand stopped for a minute, then the red tube continued along her lip. "Did he," she said, blotting her lips, but it wasn't a question. "Well, I'll give them another five minutes."

"They never wait for you, you know," Nick said. It was one of the things that puzzled him. His mother walked to the hearings alone every day, not even a single straggler from the pack of hats waiting behind to catch her. How did they think she got there?

"They will one day," she said, picking up her hat. "Right now all they can think about is your father. And his jokes." She caught the edge herself and glanced at him, embarrassed, then went back to the hat.

"There was only one," Nick said.

"I know," she said quietly. "I didn't mean -- check the window again, would you? And shouldn't you be getting ready for school?"

"I am ready," he said, going over to the window. "I don't see why I can't go to the trial."

"Not again, Nicky, please. And it's not a trial. For the hundredth time. It's a hearing. That's all. A congressional hearing."

"What's the difference?"

"Your father's not a criminal, that's the difference. He's not on trial for anything."

"Everybody acts like he is."

"What do you mean? Has anyone said anything to you at school?"

Nick shrugged.

"Have they?"

"They said he's on trial for being a Communist."

His mother stopped fixing the hat and lowered her hands. "Well, he's not on trial and he's not a Communist. So much for what they now. Just don't listen, okay? It only makes it worse. They're looking for Communists, so they have to talk to a lot of people in the government, that's all."

Nick came back to the mirror, looking at them both, as if the world reflected would be his mother's cheerful dream of before, when all they had to worry about was school gossip.

"They want to hear what he has to say. That's why it's called a hearing. There," she said, pressing the hat like a protective shell, "how do I look?"

Nick smiled. "Beautiful."

"Oh, you always say that," she said lightly, glancing at the mirror again and leaning forward. Nick loved to watch her dress, disappearing to the edge of her careful absorption. It was the harmless vanity of a pretty girl who'd been taught that how you looked mattered, that appearance could somehow determine events. She blotted her lips one last time, then noticed his expression. "Honeybun, what's wrong?"

"Why can't I hear him too? I'm not a little kid anymore."

"No," she said softly, touching the side of his head. "Maybe just to me. But ten isn't very old either, is it? You don't want to grow up too fast."

"Is he going to go to Jail?"

She knelt down to face him, holding his shoulders. "No. Look, I know all of this seems confusing. But it's not about you, do you understand? Just -- grownups. Your dad's fine. You don't want him to have to worry about you too, do you? It's -- it's a bad time, that's all."

A bad time. Nora, for whom Ireland was always just a memory away, called it troubles. "Before your father's troubles started," she would say, as if everything that was happening to them was beyond their control, like the weather. But no one would tell him what it actually was.

"You go," he said stubbornly.

"It's different for me. You're just a child -- it has nothing to do with you. It's not going to either. I'm not going to let that happen," she said, holding his shoulders tightly. "Do you understand?"

He didn't, but he nodded, surprised at the force of her hands.

"You'll be late," Nora said, coming into the hall.

His mother looked up, distracted. "Yes, all right. Come on, honeybun, time for school. It'll be all right. You'll see. This won't last much longer, I promise. Then we'll go up to the cabin and forget all about it. Just us. Would you like that?"

Nick nodded. "You mean out of school?"

"Well, in the spring."

"Don't forget you've got Father Tim coming over later," Nora said. "You'll want to be back in time. Last time he was halfway through the bottle before you were through the door."

"Nora," his mother said, pretending to scold but laughing in spite of herself. "Listen to you. He's not a drinker."

"No, the poor are drinkers. The rich just don't mind if they do."

"He's not rich anymore. He's a priest, for heaven's sake," she said, putting on her coat.

"The rich don't change. Someone else's bottle, that's what they like. Maybe that's why they're rich. Still, it's your bottle and if you don't mind I'm sure I -- "

"Nora, stop babbling. I'll be back. Coast clear?" She nodded her head toward the window. "How about a kiss, then?" She leaned down let Nick graze her cheek. "Oh, that's better. I'm ready for anything now."

At the door she put on her gloves. "You remember what I said, okay? Don't listen to the other kids if they start saying things. They don't know what they're talking about anyway."

"It wasn't the other kids. About Dad. It was Miss Smith."

"Oh." His mother stopped, flustered, her shoulders sagging. "Oh, honeybun," she said, and then, as if she had finally run out of answers, she turned and went out the door.

After that, he didn't go to school. "At least for a while," his mother said, still pretending things were normal. Now, after his parents left, the house would grow still, so quiet that he would tiptoe, listening for the sharp whistle of Nora's kettle in the kitchen, then the rustle of newspaper as she pored over his father's troubles with one of her cups of tea. He was supposed to be reading Kidnapped. His mother said he was the right age for it, but after the wicked uncle and the broken stairs in the dark it all got confusing -- Whigs and Jacobites, and you didn't know whose side you were supposed to be on. It made no more sense than the papers. His father was a New Dealer, but not a Communist, and not a Republican either, according to Nora. Then why was he on trial? Some terrible woman had said he was a spy, but you only had to look at her, a11 made up the way she was, to know she was lying. And a Catholic too, which made things worse. It was the Jews who loved Russia, not people like his father, even though she'd hate to think how long it had been since he'd seen the inside of a church. Still. And the things they said. But when Nick asked her to see the newspapers himself, she'd refused. His mother wouldn't like it.

So he sat in the deep club chair in the living room, pretending to read, but listening instead. While Nora had her tea there was no sound but the ticking of the ormolu clock. Soon, however, he'd hear the scraping of a chair in the kitchen, then the heavy steps in the hall as Nora came to peek in before she began her chores. Nick would turn a page, his head bent to the book he wasn't reading, until he felt her slip out of the doorway and head upstairs. After another few minutes, the vacuum would start with a roar and he could go. He would race down the back kitchen stairs, careful not to hit the creaky fourth step, and get the newspaper from behind the bread box, where Nora always hid it. Then, one ear still alert to the vacuum, he would read about the trial. KOTLAR DENIES ALLEGATIONS. COMMITTEE THREATENS CONTEMPT. MUNDT SET TO CALL ACHESON. NEW KOTLAR TESTIMONY. It always gave him an odd sensation to see his name in print. His eye would flash down the column, "Kotlar" leaping out as if it were in boldface, not just another word in a blur of type. But it was Kidnapped all over again. Whigs and Jacobites.

The newspapers became part of the spy game. The point at first was to see how many rooms he could visit without Nora knowing -- from the kitchen, up to his father's study, then past the bedroom where she was working (this was the best part) to his mother's dressing room, then back down the stairs (carefully now, the vacuum having gone silent) and into the club chair with the open book before she appeared again. Not that she would have cared if he'd left the room -- it was just the game. Stuck in the house, cocooned against the cold outside that kept promising snow, he learned its secrets, the noisy parts, the bad floorboards, as if they were bits of Braille. He could even spy on Nora, watching through the crack in the door, crouching halfway down the stairs, until he felt he could roam the house at will, invisible. His father, he knew, could never have done this. You always knew where he was, clunking down the hall to the bathroom at night, all his weight on his heels. His mother said you could feel him a block away. It was Nick who knew how to spy. He could stand absolutely still, like one of those movie submarines with the motors off, on sonar silence, waiting to hear something.

Then one day, by accident, he finally saw his father at the hearing. Nora had taken him downtown to the movies, a My Friend Irma picture with Martin and Lewis. She crossed herself when the newsreel began with the Holy Year in Rome, long lines of pilgrims forming at the churches, some from Germany, some even from as far away as America. A crowded open-air mass. A year of new hope for a century half old. Fireworks exploded over St. Peter's. Then, abruptly, the newsreel shifted to Washington, and the announcer's voice turned grim.

"A different kind of fireworks on Capitol Hill, as the House Committee on Un-American Activities and combative Congressman Kenneth Welles continued the probe into Communist subversion in our State Department. In the box again, Undersecretary Walter Kotlar, named by Soviet spy Rosemary Cochrane as one of the members of an alleged Washington ring."

He felt Nora move beside him and covered her hand to keep her still as the screen filled with his father walking down a corridor to the hearing room, wearing the familiar hat and herringbone coat. The reporters were more animated now, battering him with questions, as if they had finally thawed out from their morning vigil in the cold. Then he was seated at a polished table, several microphones in front of him, facing a long dais filled with men in suits who kept turning to whisper to aides who sat behind them like shadows, away from the lights.

The man at the center, surprisingly young, was taller than the others, a thick football player's neck bursting out of a suit that stretched across his wide shoulders like a padded uniform.

"Mr. Kotlar, in 1945 you were a member of the American delegation that attended the Yalta Conference, were you not?"

"Yes."

"In that capacity did you offer views on the political future of the countries of Eastern Europe?"

"No. My views were not solicited."

"But you are Czechoslovakian, are you not?"

"No, sir, I am an American."

"Well, Mr. Kotlar, that's fine. I meant by origin. Would you tell the committee where you were born?"

"I was born in what was then Bohemia and is now part of Czechoslovakia," Nick's father said, but the carefulness of his answer had the odd effect of making him seem evasive. "I came to this country when I was four years old."

"But you speak Czechoslovakian?"

Nick's father allowed the trace of a smile. "Czech? No." But this wasn't true. Nick remembered his grandmother talking in her kitchen, his father nodding his head at the incomprehensible words. "I know a few words," his father continued. "Certainly not enough to use the language in any official capacity. I know a little French, too."

This seemed to annoy the congressman. "This Committee isn't interested in your knowledge of French, Mr. Kotlar. Is it not true that as a member of the Yalta delegation, you had access to information the Russians considered very valuable?"

"No. I was there strictly as an advisor on Lend-Lease and postwar aid programs. My information wasn't classified -- it was available to everyone."

Welles looked the way Miss Smith did when someone in class was being fresh. "That remains to be seen, Mr. Kotlar," he said. "That remains to be seen." He paused, pretending to consult a paper but really, Nick knew, just allowing his words to hang in the air. "Lend-Lease. We've all heard about your generosity during the war. But after the war, you went right on being generous, didn't you? Isn't it true you wanted to give Marshall Plan aid to Czechoslovakia?"

"The United States Government offered the Marshall Plan to all European countries."

"Maybe it would be more accurate to say that certain officials of the United States government offered that aid. Officials like yourself. Or maybe you disagreed. Did you feel that such an offer was in the best interests of the United States?"

"It must have been. They turned us down."

This time there was real laughter and Congressman Welles, leaning into the microphone, was forced to talk over it, so that when it stopped he seemed to be shouting. "May I remind our visitors that this is a congressional hearing?" There were a few flashbulbs. "Mr. Kotlar, you may consider this a laughing matter. I assure you, the American people do not. Now this aid you were so eager to hand out. A little money for the old country -- even if it was now a vassal state of the Soviet empire."

"I think you have your chronology slightly confused, congressman. At the time of the offer, Czechoslovakia was a democracy. And President Benes was eager to participate. Subsequently, of course, they declined."

Nick lost his father halfway through -- it was Whigs and Jacobites again, too mixed up to sort out -- and he could tell the audience wasn't really following either. They could hear only the rhythm of Welles's interrogation, the slow build and rising pitch that seemed to hammer his father into his chair. The momentum of it, not the words, became the accusation. The congressman was so sure -- he must know. It didn't really matter what he said, so long as the voice rushed along, gathering speed.

"Round Two," the voiceover said, introducing another film clip. "And this time nobody was pulling any punches."

"Mr. Kotlar, I'm sure we've all been grateful for the history lessons. Unfortunately, anyone who changes positions as often as you do is bound to make things a little confusing for the rest of us. So let's see if we can find out what you really think. I'd like to talk again about your background, if I may?" He swerved his head to the other men at the long table, who nodded automatically, absorbed now in the drama of where he might be going. "You are, I believe, a graduate of the Harvard Law School?"

For a minute Nick's father didn't respond, as if the question were so unexpected it must be a trick. "That's correct."

"And can you tell us what you did next? Did you join a firm or hang out your own shingle or what?"

"I came to Washington to work for the government."

"That would be, let's see -- 1934. Is that correct?"

"Yes."

"Of course, jobs were tight then, so I guess government work was pretty popular," Welles said, suddenly folksy and reminiscent. "Kinda the patriotic thing to do in 1934. Yes, sir, they used to say the Harvard Law School ran regular bus service down here right after graduation." This play to the gallery had the expected effect, and Welles, smiling slyly, waited for the laughter to subside. Then he looked back at Nick's father. "But you didn't come right away, did you?"

Nick's father looked at him blankly, saying nothing.

"Mr. Kotlar, is it not a fact that after Harvard Law School you offered your services to the United Mine Workers Union during their illegal strike?"

"It was not an illegal strike."

"Just answer the question," Welles shot back. "Did you work for the UMW?"

"Yes."

"And how much were you paid for this work?"

"It was unpaid."

"Unpaid. Free, you mean. Well, now, I'm just a country lawyer -- I didn't go to the Harvard Law School. They usually work for free up there? Or just the labor agitators?" He rushed on, not waiting for Nick's father to reply. "The party often ask you to do union work, Mr. Kotlar?"

"No," his father said quietly.

"No." He paused. "They had other plans for you. Washington plans. Seems a shame, considering. The strike went pretty well from their point of view, wouldn't you say?"

"I wouldn't know. I wasn't working for the Communist Party."

"No. Just the miners. Out of the goodness of your heart. What made them so special, I wonder. To work free of charge."

Nick's father waited, drawing the room to his side of the table, then let his lips form the hint of a smile. "My father was a coal miner. He asked me to help. I didn't think I could refuse."

There was a slight pause and then the room buzzed. Welles, visibly surprised and annoyed, covered the microphone with his hand and turned to an aide. The other members of the committee began to talk too, as if by looking away Welles had given them all a brief recess. When he turned back to the mike, the room grew still, expectant.

"I'm sure the committee all appreciate a son's devotion, Mr. Kotlar," he said, reaching again for sarcasm. But the momentum had gone. Nick wasn't sure what had happened, but his father was sitting up straighter, no longer letting his shoulders hunch in self-protection. "Perhaps they'd also appreciate hearing that you didn't confine yourself to legal services in that strike. It says here that the picket line at the Trousdale Colliery got pretty violent. You were arrested, were you not?"

"No. There was a scuffle with the company guards, that's all. No arrests."

"Mr. Kotlar, we're not talking about a speeding ticket here. Do you deny there was a violent incident in which you took part?"

"I don't deny there was a fight. I deny I took part in it."

"Oh? What were you doing?"

"I was trying to stay out of the way."

Now there was real laughter, a wave that passed through the room, gathering force until it spilled onto Welles's table, breaking as it hit his angry face.

"Mr. Kotlar," he said loudly, "I think I've had enough. I've had enough impertinence. This committee is charged with the serious business -- the very serious business -- of investigating Communist activities in this country. I've had enough of your Harvard Law School evasions. And I think the American people have had enough of high-handed boys who use their tax dollars while they sell this country down the river. You go ahead and laugh. But that was no scuffle, and you are no loyal American. When I look at your testimony, start to finish, I see nothing less than an attempt to deceive this committee and this great country. Well, we're not going to be deceived. This committee is here to look at un-American activities. In your case, I think the people of this country are going to be grateful we did."

"Congressman," Nick's father said, his voice tight with scorn. "The only un-American activity I've seen is taking place right here in this committee room. I hope the people see that too."

Another clip, the announcer's voice more excited now. "But the sparring match drew to a close as Congressman Welles zeroed in on the sensational Cochrane testimony." The clip must have been from another day because his father was wearing a different suit, the gray double-breasted one Nick's mother said made him look heavier.

"Mr. Kotlar, Rosemary Cochrane testified that on several occasions she received government documents from you in her role as a courier for a Russian undercover operation." The congressman paused. "Do you recall that testimony?"

"Vividly."

"And you denied these charges. In fact, you denied ever having met her, is that correct?"

"To the best of my knowledge, I have never met her."

"To the best of your knowledge?"

"I was trying to be precise. I may have encountered her without my knowing it. Certainly I have no memory of having done so."

"Is that your way of saying no?" Welles said. "Do I have to remind you that you're under oath?"

His father managed a wry smile. "No, you don't have to remind me."

"Mr. Kotlar, have you ever shopped at Garfinkel's department store?"

For a moment, Nick's father looked blank. "I'm sorry. What?"

"Have you ever shopped at Garfinkel's department store? The big store down on 14th Street. You're familiar with Garfinkel's?"

"Yes. I suppose so."

"Shirts? Ever buy shirts there?"

"I don't remember."

"You don't remember. Now how could that be?"

"My wife usually does the shopping."

The camera moved to take in Nick's mother, sitting rigidly at the edge of the row behind, her eyes blinking in the unfamiliar light.

Nick felt Nora squirm beside him. "That's it," she whispered urgently. "We're going."

"No, when it's over," Nick said firmly, not moving, his head. "I want to see."

Congressman Welles was talking again. "But I suppose once in a while you find time in your busy schedule to shop for yourself?"

"Yes."

"And you never bought shirts from Miss Cochrane?"

"Was she the salesgirl? I don't remember."

"She remembers you, Mr. Kotlar. She remembers receiving envelopes from you during these little shopping trips. Does that refresh your memory?"

"She is mistaken."

"She even remembers your size. Fifteen and a half, thirty-three. Can you at least remember that for the Committee? That your size?"

His father smiled. "I prefer a 35," he said. "A longer sleeve."

"A longer sleeve," Welles repeated sarcastically. "Maybe you're still growing. You'd better watch your nose then. They say it gets longer every time you tell a lie."

"I'm watching yours, too, congressman."

More laughter, and this time Nick got the joke. He remembered Pinocchio, the sick feeling in his stomach when the boy went to Donkey Island and couldn't get back. He felt it now again, that dread, being scared while everyone around him was having a good time. But his father didn't look scared -- his smooth, lean face was calm, as if he knew it was all just a movie.

And so this week's round ends in a draw," the announcer was saying, "as both sides retire to their corners to come back to fight another day."

But it wasn't a boxing match, it was a trial, and Welles was the only fighter who came back in the last clip, surrounded by hand-held microphones on the windy Capitol steps.

"I don't think there can be a doubt in anyone's mind that this country is under attack," he said, his face grave, looking straight at the camera. "These people are using lies and tricks the same way their comrades overseas are using tanks and machine guns to undermine the free world. We saw it in the Hiss case and we're seeing it again here. Walter Kotlar is a Communist and he's going to lose his shirt -- no matter what size he says it is."

And then all at once the screen brightened, flooded with Florida sun as the newsreel switched to water-skiing formations in Cypress Gardens. Nick blinked in the light. A man and woman in bathing suits were receiving crowns. After a rooster crowed to end the newsreel, the screen went dark.

Nick watched the curtain close, then open again to start the feature, but he was no longer paying attention to any of it. Nora laughed at some of the movie, but Nick was thinking about the newsreel and missed the point of the joke and then have to pretend to laugh when everyone else did. He could still see Welles's wide linebacker's face, eyes peering out as if he thought he could make you squirm just by looking hard enough. He was like one of those guys who kept poking you in the chest until you had to fight. But every time Nick's father hit back, he'd get madder. He'd never stop now. The newsreel must be a few days old. Nick wondered what had happened since.

After the movie, on the street, Nora was uneasy. "Don't tell your mother. She wouldn't like it."

"I won't."

"He's a wicked man, the senator."

"He's not a senator."

"Well, whatever he is." She sighed, then brightened. "Still, I'll say this for your father. He gave as good as he got."

Nick looked up at her. "No, he didn't," he said. Copyright & copy; 1998 by Joseph Kanon. Permission granted by Broadway Books, a divison of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved.

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 21, 2012

    a good read

    This was a good story. I would not consider it his best, it was not something I "just could not put down". It was a nice read, a bit slow here and there. I did figure out who the bad guy was in the beginning, way before I read it.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 5, 2002

    Great Book

    I believe that everyone should read this book. It's a thriller of suspense and love. It put's a murder mystery and a Love story together.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 9, 2000

    More Than Typical

    I found this novel to be an easy read. It had was more of a mystery than a spy novel but still was worth my money. I don't care what other people say, I found it to be a good mystery.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 9, 2000

    weak follow-up to Los Alamos

    While I enjoyed Kanon's evocative debut novel, Los Alamos, this was a letdown. A story set during the Cold War and HUAC hearings had a lot of potenial, but this is a predictable by the numbers book. The characters are not well drawn, especially the women, and the villain is VERY obvious. Also, the wonderful descriptive powers Kanon had in Los Alamos seem to have eluded him here.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 19, 2000

    kanon tops los alamos

    Kanon seems to have a knack for spy stories written during the more interesting time in recent american history. but this story was also about the relationship between nick and his father. the biggest problem i had with the book was that the main villain, Silver, was obvious who it was from the very beginning.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 31, 2013

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