Trevanian Anatole Broyard - Essay

Anatole Broyard

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Mr. Trevanian is not only a better writer than most of those who turn out suspense novels, he has also made a computerlike analysis of the various elements readers look for in such novels and included one of each. His hero [in "The Eiger Sanction"], for example, is a masterpiece of conflicting qualities—something for everybody—but he is still within the limits of the willing suspension of disbelief. Jonathan Hemlock is an immensely popular professor of art history; an ardent collector of modern paintings, illicitly acquired; a man who can kill without compunction, not out of patriotism, but simply to support his expensive life-style. Yet, with all this, he is also capable of true friendship and loyalty. In the best James Bond tradition, he is an irresistible seducer of women—but with a difference. His sexual virtuosity is appealingly penalized by the fact that he feels almost nothing in bed, except for a negative athletic release.

Though he is as cool as they come, Jonathan, we find, is vulnerable after all—to love, of all things. And who should his love be but [Jemima Brown,] a black girl! How about that for originality and "relevance" in the literary backwater of the suspense story? She is a marvelous black girl, too—not a cliché showing anywhere—and she handles her femininity and her ethnic situation with a mixture of irony, humor and realism that is rare enough in any kind of book these days….

The "Sanction" of the title is a murder only Jonathan can handle, because it must be one in the course of climbing a deadly mountain. Although it...

(The entire section is 655 words.)