Tremor of Intent is ostensibly a spy thriller containing most of the conventional characters and devices of the type, often taken to comic extremes. Yet Anthony Burgess’ American subtitle is “An Eschatological Spy Novel,” and this theological concern with death, Hell, judgment, and the fate of the soul moves the novel beyond its generic features into emphatic Christian allegory.
British agent Denis Hillier is aboard the Polyolbion on a gastronomic cruise to Yarylyuk in the Crimea, where he is to force or persuade the defector Edwin Roper to return to Great Britain. Hillier creates a lengthy unwritten letter to his director, recapitulating his relationship with Roper as Catholic schoolboys and in early manhood, detailing his prior rescue of Roper from his whorish German wife, Brigitte. In quick order, Hillier encounters the ingratiating steward Richard “Ricky” Wriste; the sultry Indian beauty Miss Devi; her employer, the pederastic and gluttonous Mr. Theodorescu; the blonde and innocently perverse Clara Walters; and her frighteningly knowing brother, Alan. Hillier’s cover (he is posing as a typewriter technician) is penetrated by Alan and by Theodorescu, who bests him in an epic eating contest and, after Hillier’s exotic sexual engagement with Miss Devi, elicits secret information from him.
After the departure of Theodorescu and Miss Devi from the Polyolbion, Hillier’s sexual and paternal attraction to Clara escalates,...
(The entire section is 445 words.)