May 14, 1999 at 04:00 AM EDT

A Dangerous Friend

Current Status
In Season
Ward Just
We gave it an A-

The war in Vietnam is merely a backdrop in A Dangerous Friend, a convenient way of dramatizing political novelist Ward Just’s two themes: the complicated, compromise-centered existence of men and women who ”live between the lines” and the explosions that occur when you put ”the twentieth century eye to eye with the fifteenth.” The between-the-lines characters are Sydney Parade, a young spook working for a shadowy extra-military organization in South Vietnam; his colleague, Pablo Gutterman; and Claude Armand, a French rubber-plant grower. The delicate balance in which all exist is shattered when an American pilot goes missing and Gutterman goes into the jungle to rescue the military man. Deceptively undramatic in tone but ultimately emotionally wrenching and always beautifully observant, this is a work in the Graham Greene tradition. A-

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