BARBAROSSA.John Gardner.Putnam.303 pages...


June 16, 1991|By GARY ROEN W. J. CASH: A LIFE. Bruce Clayton. Louisiana State University. 236 pages. $24.95. | GARY ROEN W. J. CASH: A LIFE. Bruce Clayton. Louisiana State University. 236 pages. $24.95.,LOS ANGELES TIMES @THE MAN FROM RAFFLES. William Overgard. Simon & Schuster. 270 pages. $19.95.


John Gardner.


303 pages. $14.95. James Bond is back -- but this time it would be better if he weren't. John Gardner's interpretation of the Ian Fleming superspy is again that of the agent who has no idea who his enemies or allies are. He somehow muddles his way through.

The story deals with a mistaken identity kidnapping of one Joel Pendrek from his home in New Jersey. An unknown Russian organization named the Scales of Justice takes the credit. It says he is really Josif Voronstov, a Ukrainian who was involved in the Babi Yar massacre, and vows to bring him to justice. Before that occurs, Bond learns that they have taken the wrong man. The real Voronstov lives in the Tampa area where he has been under surveillance by Israeli intelligence.

The matter is further complicated later when the Scales of Justice, realizing it has taken the wrong person, demands an exchange of the real Voronstov and $10 million within 72 hours or their hostage will be killed. Bond's mission from M is to seek out the Scales of Justice members, destroy them, and rescue Pendrek.

Mr. Gardner once more tells a plot that is too complicated and hard to follow, and again Bond is not the polished capable operative we have known and loved for so long. The author also has filled the work with characters who flit in and out with no real purpose. Numerous actors have played Bond with great success in movies, but the same is not true with the books. It is time for Mr. Gardner to let someone else write about Bond. Wilbur Joseph Cash (1900-1941) wrote exactly one book, but what a book: "The Mind of the South," the critical exploration of the Southern temperament, first published 50 years ago and continuously in print ever since.

Cash was a true son of the South, rarely venturing beyond the Carolinas, and Allegheny College professor Bruce Clayton does a good job sketching the love-hate ambivalence that drove Cash to write his classic -- and, one suspects, to suicide. Cash hanged himself in Mexico City in 1941, the same year "The Mind of the South" was published, and although Dr. Clayton leans toward a physiological explanation of Cash's suicide -- deep depression caused by hyperthyroidism -- his evidence probably will lead many readers to conclude that Cash ended his life because he knew, at some level, that his only significant work was behind him. After 25 years, Lawrence Slinng returns to Singapore to investigate the death of his father Neville. As a rebellious adolescent, Lawrence was sent to Scotland after repeated clashes with his father and after refusing to follow in the family tradition of working at the famous Raffles hotel. Lawrence became a merchant seaman who moonlights as an art smuggler.

In Singapore, Slinng's probe reveals that his father was murdered. The hunt for the murderer takes him into the wilds of Borneo, and Lawrence discovers a secret dating to World War II and the Japanese occupation of Singapore. Besides a Chinese gang seeking revenge for the attack on one of its members, Slinng is confronted by an Australian billionaire determined to install himself as the new White Raj.

Filled with exotic locales, William Overgard's thriller is a truly wondrous adventure. The action rarely pauses and the violence is as graphic as it is plentiful. There are several unexpected turns waiting for the reader and Slinng. If there is a melancholy note in "The Man From Raffles," it is that the author died shortly after completing the novel.


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