The premise of this thriller is that during the Cold War, a high-ranking officer in the Soviet intelligence agency KGB conceives and carries out a plan to subvert a young American destined for high political office. If the plan succeeds, the young man will ascend to the presidency and will pave the way for a communist takeover of the U.S. government. Peter, the officer who conceives the plot, acts without the knowledge or approval of his superiors in the KGB.
Peter’s agent in the United States is known as Dmitri; he is the narrator of the novel. His orders are to identify a young man who has demonstrated the qualities necessary for political success in the United States: charm, sex appeal, ruthlessness, the ability to take up and abandon positions on important issues without appearing to be weak or unprincipled, and a quality or a pattern of behavior that will make him vulnerable to blackmail. One of Dmitri’s American agents, a professor at Columbia University named Alan, comes up with a candidate in one of his students, Jack Adams.
Jack’s mother was a nurse in the naval hospital where John F. Kennedy was treated during World War II, and she has led her son to believe that Kennedy was his real father. Jack is amoral and without principles, sexually attractive and highly sexually active (although he never bothers to engage in intercourse with a woman more than once), and blessed with a quick but shallow intelligence. Peter tests and observes the young man and gives his approval to the choice, giving Dmitri the job of controlling Jack Adams. As a reward for discovering Adams, Alan is later sent to Cuba, where he is executed at Peter’s orders.
Before he is dispatched, Alan is ordered by Dmitri to arrange a fellowship of some kind that will send Jack to Europe, preferably to West Germany. The arrangement is made, and Jack travels to Heidelberg, where he is welcomed by Manfred, a German who is a Soviet agent controlled by Peter through Dmitri. Manfred introduces Jack to Greta, a member of the terrorist group known as the Baader- Meinhof Gang. Greta had become a communist in rebellion against her parents, members of Germany’s wealthy upper-middle class. After seeming to despise Jack, Greta seduces him on a public street, and thereafter introduces him to a wild sexuality that enchants him. Eventually, after a final sexual adventure, Greta joins other members of her gang in an attempted bank robbery in which she and her accomplices are gunned down by police. It is implied that the police have been tipped off by Manfred, acting on Dmitri’s orders. After arranging for Jack to go for a visit to the Soviet Union, Manfred himself is killed.
Jack is taken to meet Peter, who shows him photographs and videotapes of Jack’s sexual activities with Greta, which also implicate him in the attempted bank robbery. He then lays out Jack’s role in the plot that is to develop. If Jack declines to participate, the damning material will be made public, and Jack will be disgraced and sent to prison. Jack does not hesitate to accept.
The program set forth by Peter includes law school and a law practice, leading to a career in politics. Jack will be supported by funds funneled through Dmitri, but he will not receive any money directly; an agent he does not know as yet will manage the funds and will pass on to him orders from Dmitri, orders Jack must obey. In addition, the KGB will assist Jack in a variety of ways, sometimes without his knowledge. There is one ironclad rule for Jack: In his political career, he is not to attack or threaten the business of trafficking drugs into the United States. Jack does not know that this prohibition results from the fact that Peter’s principal source of income, which enables him to operate outside the control of the KGB, is the drug trade.
Jack returns to the United States and enters Harvard University Law School, where he excels less because of any intellectual superiority than because of his charm and his unusually sharp memory. While at Harvard, he meets, apparently by accident, a student at the Harvard Business School named Morgan Weatherby, who epitomizes the radical hippie of the 1970’s. She wears thick eyeglasses and unattractive clothes, she belongs to every radical political and feminist group, and she seems to have no interest in the opposite sex. She participates in every possible rally and protest. Jack, despite his usual busy sexual life, finds her intriguing.
Predictably, Morgan turns out to be deliberately masking her true attractiveness, as Jack discovers when she finally becomes the major partner in his sex life. Predictably also, she...