Trevanian Anatole Broyard - Essay

Anatole Broyard

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

"The Loo Sanction" by the pseudonymous Trevanian is not as good, alas, as his first effort "The Eiger Sanction". It has all the same ingredients, but while the earlier book seemed like a writing adventure the author himself enjoyed, this one has the feel of a commercial venture. It reads like an unexpired application of a successful formula. Jonathon Hemlock, the hero, is an internationally famous art critic and former government assassin, who accepted assignments only when he needed money to buy a stolen painting. His esthetics outweighed his ethics. This, like its inverse, is an occupational hazard all critics must face.

"The Loo Sanction" opens with a man impaled through the anus on a spike in a church tower—a baroque image if there ever was one. A Lesbian is "raped" to death with kitchen utensils, in what may be a convoluted pun on women's lib. The arch villain of the book is a homme fatale who believes that death is the only true orgasm. He is a menace to the British body politic because he has films of its heads of state in a state of nature, taken in "the Cloisters," a brothel out of Fellini or Buñuel.

Hemlock is another updated James Bond, and that may be the beginning of an unfortunate trend. If secret agents of "avant-garde suspense" get any more dehumanized—the sexual instinct being the only surviving trace of homely old homo sapiens—they might start shacking up with Mr. Bartram's computers.

Trevanian has both wit and invention, but suspense readers are true believers of a heretical sort and they know when they are being merely manipulated. The best mysteries are a collusion between author and reader to conceal for a few hours the fact that it's all just make-believe. The author of "The Loo Sanction" tries to compensate for writing down to his readers by writing over them as well with words like "cupric," and "ecu" and tag-ends of art criticism. But the gun misses fire.

Anatole Broyard, "Blood on the Computer," in The New York Times (copyright © 1973 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), November 5, 1973, p. 37.∗