Second Sight

(Literary Masterpieces, Critical Compilation)

Second Sight, according to Charles McCarry, is the final volume in his seven-novel series about Paul Christopher and his family. Except for The Bride of the Wilderness (1988), a historical romance, these books are spy novels focusing primarily on Christopher’s exploits in “the Outfit” since its beginnings following the end of World War II. The Outfit is a highly romanticized version of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), for which McCarry engaged in covert operations in such places as the Congo and Vietnam from 1958 to 1967. Unlike such British espionage novelists as John le Carré, Len Deighton, and Ken Follett, McCarry writes from a decidedly conservative viewpoint, seeing the Outfit as the only barrier protecting civilization from communism and terrorism. A journalist before joining the CIA, McCarry has also written Citizen Nader (1972), a critical view of consumer-rights activist Ralph Nader, and is the ghost writer of Alexander Haig’s Caveat: Realism, Reagan, and Foreign Policy (1984) and of For the Record: From Wall Street to Washington (1988), Donald Regan’s memoir of his tenure in the Ronald Reagan administration.

Second Sight is a sequel to The Last Supper (1983), which deals with Paul Christopher’s ten years in a Chinese prison. Like the earlier novel, Second Sight is a family saga, presenting the lives of a dozen or so protagonists in many locales over several decades, ranging from North Africa and Berlin in the 1930’s to the Pacific during World War II to America following the war to contemporary Europe and America. McCarry begins in the present with the kidnapping of American agents by unknown terrorists for no apparent reason. The agents are given a drug that induces them to tell all their secrets. Paul, retired for the ten years since his release from the Chinese prison, is asked by David Patchen, the director of the Outfit and his closest friend, to help find out who is behind the kidnappings. McCarry solves the mystery by weaving back and forth between characters, settings, and eras to create an elaborate puzzle of love, death, and betrayal.

Seen in linear terms, the story of Second Sight actually begins in Biblical times when a tribe of Jews migrates to an isolated mountainous region of North Africa. In the 1930’s, Sebastian Laux, scion of a New York banking family, drifts into the village of the Ja’wabi, who have protected themselves for three thousand years by pretending to be Moslems. Sebastian meets Meryem, whose psychic abilities give the novel its title. She falls in love with him, follows him to Paris, and marries him only to be left behind when he returns to America to take over the family business. Sebastian thinks his family will not accept a dark-skinned wife.

Meryem becomes friends with Lori and Hubbard Christopher and stays with them and their young son, Paul, in Berlin while Hubbard writes novels and Lori is unwillingly courted by Reinhard Heydrich, head of the Nazi secret police, who considers Lori the ideal German woman. Fervently anti-Nazi, Lori and Hubbard smuggle Jews and others in danger out of the country. Heydrich imprisons Meryem in an attempt to force Lori to cooperate with him and then allows her to escape when Lori seemingly gives in. Lori stays behind when Hubbard, Paul, and Meryem leave Germany because she has been recruited by British intelligence to assassinate her admirer. She disappears during World War II.

Paul is a marine fighting the Japanese on Okinawa when he heroically carries two wounded men to safety. One dies; the other is David Patchen whose injuries leave him badly scarred, both physically and emotionally. Paul and David meet again in a military hospital and a third time at Harvard University where they become roommates. (David does not learn until years later that Paul is his rescuer.) At Hubbard’s funeral, David is recruited for the Outfit by its first director, known only as “the O.G.” (for Old Gentleman). David becomes a desk man, assisting the O.G., while Paul acts as a field agent in such places as Vietnam. There is considerable irony in David’s influencing world events from a desk in Washington while his wife, Martha, a devout Quaker, confronts the world’s problems directly by spending half of each year working with a backward tribe of Guatemalan Indians devoted to a drunken cult.

In Rome in the 1960’s, Paul’s wife, Cathy, is brutally beaten by a lover. Before being operated on for her injuries, Cathy coerces the distraught Paul into having sex with her, knowing he will never...

(The entire section is 1886 words.)