Gene Lyons
July 30, 1993 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Honor Among Thieves

Current Status
In Season
Jeffrey Archer
Fiction, Mystery and Thriller

We gave it a C+

When it comes to writing production-line international espionage thrillers, Jeffrey Archer has few peers. The former British Member of Parliament, recently elevated to the House of Lords, has an undeniable flair for the sort of ingeniously plotted, grandiose tales of derring-do so beloved of weary business travelers. More cleverly written than the sagas of Robert Ludlum, yet less demanding than, say, the literary offerings of Len Deighton or John le Carré, novels like First Among Equals and A Matter of Honor have made Archer a favorite wherever briefcases are carried.

With impeccable timing, Archer’s latest novel, Honor Among Thieves, attempts to solve the post-Cold War dilemma common to all spy novelists by invoking as his villain of villains the odious Saddam Hussein. Since the Iraqi tyrant can hardly be turned into a credible threat capable of conquering the world, however, the plot hinges upon what is essentially an elaborate fraternity prank. It seems that Saddam, determined to drive President Bill Clinton from office, has hit upon the perfect plan: His henchmen will pilfer the Declaration of Independence from the National Archives and transport it to Baghdad. Saddam will then burn the hallowed document to cinders before CNN cameras on the Fourth of July.

But you can’t just walk into the National Archives as if it were Wal-Mart and walk out with a 200-year-old parchment rolled up under your trench coat. These things take a lot of planning. First, see, Saddam’s boys subcontract the job to the Mafia, which kidnaps a plastic surgeon’s daughter so he’ll make them a living replica of Clinton. Then they hire a brilliant Irish forger to make a near-perfect replica of the priceless document, suborn a disgraced movie director to shoot a presidential cavalcade scene in front of the Archives, cause a diversion, and then….

But never fear. Confronting this disgraceful rabble of international ethnic stereotypes are two equally familiar figures: the intellectual Boy Scout and a drop-dead gorgeous but lethal Israeli spy. Scott Bradley is the scout’s name, a constitutional law scholar, part-time CIA consultant, and all-around hero. And who better than Mossad agent and Elle cover model Hannah Kopec to don the veil and penetrate the darkest recesses of the Iraqi intelligence establishment? Will Hannah learn in time that Scott isn’t really dead? Can the lovers succeed in snatching the precious document from beneath Saddam’s nose and making it to the Kurdish border before being tortured to death by the Revolutionary Guard? Will anybody really care? C+

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