Rogue's March

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 13)

Written in meticulous prose, Rogue’s March is a carefully detailed account of the movement of a shipment of Soviet guns into a newly independent country in Africa with a politically unstable government. Although the guns are never effectively used, they might as well have been, for the destruction that results from their mere presence is complete, resulting in death for hundreds of people and overthrow of the government. The novel also recounts the lives of a number of characters, all rogues in the drama of world politics, wars, and intrigue. W. T. Tyler shows the brutalizing effect that war has on all men—diplomats and soldiers alike. Institutionalized murder requires the suppression of any instinct for good, demanding a predictable and unequivocal response, but the author carefully shows the little bit of humanity that remains in each of the characters no matter how corrupt or contemptuous they have become, and it is Tyler’s compassion for these men that gives depth and scope to the novel.

Andy Reddish, the novel’s protagonist and focal character, is a member of the CIA attached to the American Embassy. Complications of plot begin when he receives an anonymous telephone call one Saturday evening as he is dressing for an embassy reception. The caller tells him that Soviet guns have been brought into the country from across the river and that the army is planning to overthrow the government. Reddish, toward the end of the conversation, recognizes the voice of Banda, a friend and informant. In order to confirm the information that Banda has given him, Reddish calls Yuon Kadima, Minister of the Interior and one of his controlled assets, and Bintu, Chief of the Cabinet, but Reddish is unable to reach either man. At the reception that evening, Reddish notices that neither the ministers of the government nor the military people are in attendance. Reddish does, however, meet a French woman newly arrived, Madame Bonnard.

Early the next morning, after learning that neither of his calls has been returned, Reddish makes a tour of the city, checking the President’s residence, the camp of the paratroopers, the market square, and Malunga, one of the native compounds. He sees nothing out of the ordinary. Nevertheless, he is nervous; he goes to the house where Banda lives, only to find that he has left town with his wife and daughter.

Walking back to his car, Reddish is forced off the road by a group of boys jogging toward him. They are in the uniform of the Jeunesse Nationale de la Révolution, the youth group of the teachers and professional workers party recently involved in a bloody strike. The party Secretary General is Pierre Masakita, a former rebel leader, pardoned and given a cabinet post by the President in his national reconciliation government. Masakita’s feats during the rebellion have made him an almost legendary figure, feared by the army and the other cabinet members as well.

With the smuggled guns on his mind, Reddish returns to the Embassy and calls his other contacts in the government. None can be reached. Kadima, Reddish learns, has left the city. This alarms Reddish, because he had been through a similar experience in Syria, when the sudden disappearance of his sources was followed by the overthrow of the government, which led to his arrest and expulsion from Syria.

Determined to trace the guns, Reddish goes to Jean Bernard de Vaux, an aid to Colonel N’Sika, who is Commander of the paratroopers (De Vaux, an ex-mercenary, is married to a relative of N’Sika), but de Vaux refuses to consider even the possibility of smuggled Soviet guns. Instead, he talks of the President, his paranoia and fear, and his general incompetency—seditiously, Reddish thinks.

Late in the afternoon, Reddish returns to Malunga after receiving a warning telephone call from another one of his informants who tells him that Malunga is in flames and that paratroopers have surrounded and entered the headquarters of the workers party. On the road, cars are burning and explosions rock the air. People are fleeing. Everywhere there are armored cars and army trucks blocking the roads out of Malunga. At last, Reddish finds the elusive Soviet guns in the hands of the youth group that he had encountered that morning. Untrained in the use of these weapons, the young men are shot down in the streets by the advancing paratroopers.

Tyler has portrayed Reddish as a man whose natural curiosity has been, if anything, overtrained. He is single-minded in his pursuit of information, and for the reader, it is impossible not to be reminded of a tracking bloodhound or even the sounds of a Geiger counter in operation. Reddish, like all other characters in the book, is driven by fear, but he is not merely a caricature of the cold-war warrior. His failure in Syria has left him determined not to repeat old mistakes. He knows the narrowness of the intelligence system and the futility of much of its activity. Reddish is a man approaching his fiftieth birthday, restless and dissatisfied as his father has been before him. He has begun to confront some of the fundamental questions of life and its purpose. Through the development of his relationship with Gabrielle Bonnard, Reddish begins to find answers to some of his questions.

Because of the fighting that has taken place, the whole city is placed under martial law. Roadblocks are set up confining most of the ambassadorial community to their residences, where they are engaged in their various Sunday diversions. None of them knows what is transpiring except what is being broadcast over the radio—that there are Soviet guns in Malunga and the paratroops are bringing the rebellion under control. Periodically, a recorded message from the President is broadcast asking for the rebels to lay down their arms.

What the embassy staff does not know is that a coup has taken place. The President is the prisoner of Colonel N’Sika, who has been aided in his effort by de Vaux, Lutete, and Fumbe, majors under his command. They have taken over the government on the pretext that the President and his...

(The entire section is 2495 words.)


(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 13)

The Atlantic. CCL, November, 1982, p. 170.

Publishers Weekly. CCXXII, August 20, 1982, p. 56.