The Only Game

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

“There’s no dog in that boy,” Dog Cicero’s Uncle Endo said of him when he was a child, thus giving him his nickname. Cicero refuses to play the underdog, even when the odds are against him, as they are in his current assignment. Jane Maguire offers him an unconvincing story of the kidnapping of her child, Noll. Cicero, as a detective inspector for the Romchurch CID, checks out the story and finds large gaps in it, leading him to wonder what really happened to Noll, especially after he finds bloodstains on the seat of Maguire’s car.

Soon after beginning his investigation, Cicero runs into Toby Tench, an enemy from their days as schoolchildren. Tench is now a superintendent, with power over Cicero that he delights in exercising. Tench does, however, provide information about Maguire’s past that aids Cicero in his search for the missing child. Tench also has an interest in the case, one that he refuses to disclose.

The reader does not learn until the second of four parts that Noll has in fact been kidnapped, not murdered by Maguire, as Cicero had come to suspect. Maguire is released on bail, through Tench’s intervention. Tench has her tailed, but Cicero helps her escape surveillance, hoping that he can get more information from her and reveling in disrupting Tench’s plans. Cicero later learns that Irish revolutionaries are involved in the kidnapping; one of them, he discovers, set the bomb that wounded him years earlier. The remainder of the book consists of Cicero’s search for Noll, with Maguire’s help and Tench’s interference. The perspective shifts among characters, allowing the reader to observe the kidnappers even though Cicero cannot. The plot is filled with action from all the characters, each page offering a new plot twist or a newly discovered allegiance or double-cross.