Matt Hartman is a freelance editor and cataloguer, running Hartman Cataloguing, Editing and Indexing Services.
Maxwell’s third novel is set in Cologne and deals with the kidnapping of an official of the German Green Party. The title refers to a file which ostensibly shows the location of U.S. missiles on West German soil. More important, it shows that there are many more missiles than are allowed under a treaty signed by Germany and the Soviet Union. If the file ever became public knowledge, it could prove highly embarrassing for the German and American governments in particular, and for NATO in general.
The Equinox file is being taken from Cologne to Bonn by Dietrich Helm, a Green Party leader. Helm is kidnapped by a group of young terrorists led by a Lebanese named Mahmoud. The abduction is originally staged to gain money and the freedom of fellow terrorists imprisoned in Germany. The gang stumbles upon the document Helm is carrying almost by accident.
Leading the forces of good against evil are Paul Fontana, a greying CIA agent, whose granddaughter, Gaby, has been indoctrinated into the terrorist cell, and Gunter Stark, Chief Inspector of the Antiterrorist Office in Cologne. Fontana wants out of the Agency, but is being dangled on a string by Henry Wolff, a CIA operative who, as luck would have it, was Fontana’s captor during World War II. The CIA, of course, is interested as well in retrieving the stolen file to save the U.S. from damaging publicity.
The dust jacket of Equinox gives Maxwell’s occupation as “journalist in Southeast Asia, the Middle East and Europe.” This makes it all the more unusual that, stylistically, his novel contains so many gaps and lapses in both plot movement and characterization. Spy thrillers depend for their effect on the creation of a mood of suspense; the reader must be so caught up in the action that one or two sittings should handle the book from start to finish. The best practitioners of the genre, the Le Carrés and the Dennis Joneses, have honed their craft to a gemstone gleam. Maxwell’s use of flashback and recapitulation, his abrupt changes of locale, and, above all, the sameness of his characters, serve the reader poorly. The dialogue is juvenile, the scenes are predictable, and, worst of all, the denouement seems hardly worth the fuss.