The Sleeper

May 5, 2017 at 4:52 pm Leave a comment

Review by Steve Savage

The Sleeper is a Cold War thriller. We are in the 1950s. The premise of Holly Roth‘s novel is that the US military have court-martialled and imprisoned a spy they uncovered in the Army, a “sleeper”. Public unease apparently induces them to give a journalist – Robert Kendall – unique access to Lt. Hollister, and he has written a whole book about the man and his case. But after Buddy Hollister kills himself in his cell, the serialization of the book is speeded up, and as soon as the first parts appear in print in the Weekly Courier, Kendall finds himself the centre of unwelcome attention.

Now he wants to find out just what is going on. Hollister had mentioned knowing a young woman, but she says they hardly knew each other, and resents the publicity. Is she telling the truth, or could she be a clever agent, a sleeper? What is in Kendall’s manuscript that is so interesting to so many people?

Holly Roth effectively conjures up the atmosphere of nervousness in the early years of the Cold War. In some ways, Hollister makes one think of Alger Hiss, the very high-ranking US civil servant who was exposed as a probable Soviet spy in the 1950s, but who after coming out of jail protested his innocence right up until his death in 1996 and managed to convince many people that he had been framed. His accusers – Whittaker Chambers, Richard M. Nixon, J. Edgar Hoover – turned out to have feet of clay, and Alger Hiss’s pose of tranquil innocence made him a living reproach against McCarthyism. Except that he was no saint – he was indeed a Soviet secret agent.

Like Alger Hiss, the fictional Buddy Hollister was good-looking, engaging, contained. He did not appear obviously guilty. In fact it was difficult to understand why he would be a spy. But unlike Hiss, Hollister killed himself for the good of the cause. What Kendall has to do is work out why…

The actual denouement is perhaps not very powerful when looked at so many decades later, but The Sleeper can still be read with enjoyment, at any rate by those of a nostalgic disposition.

Steve Savage




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Holly Roth Dan Brown

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