Thursday, January 07, 2016

Forgotten Books Gravetapping BREAKFAST AT WIMBLEDON by Jack M. Bickham


Posted: 06 Jan 2016 06:00 AM PST
by Ben Boulden
Breakfast at Wimbledon is the fourth novel featuring aging tennis pro Brad Smith. It was published in 1991 by Tor, and it has a certain nostalgia for me since it was the first Brad Smith, and Jack Bickham, novel I read back in the long ago. It is also pretty good, and represents Brad Smith’s transition from cold war to post-cold war hero.

Brad is uneasy when his old pal and CIA contact Collie Davis makes an unannounced appearance at his Bitterroot Valley Resort—

“Collie Davis did not make casual visits.”

—with good reason, as it turns out. Collie wants Brad to accept an invitation to play at Wimbledon. A legitimate terrorist threat has been identified, and it centers around a young Irish tennis star named Sean Cork. Brad’s job: play tennis, ingratiate himself with Sean Cork, and collect information. All very hands-off with no expected direct danger. Unsurprisingly, it is more complicated than it is supposed to be, and the danger is very real, and very personal, to Brad.

This is one of my favorite of the Brad Smith novels, and for more reasons than mere nostalgia. It brings something new to the series—terrorists rather than communists—without losing the atmosphere and tone of the previous novels. It helps that Brad’s Soviet nemesis Sylvester remains a key player, and it includes more tennis action than any of the novels since Tiebreaker, which is good since Mr. Bickham writes it so well. It is the longest, and includes the largest cast, of any of the novels. There is a drug crazy American tennis star playing doubles with Brad, an Irish entrepreneur millionaire with a taste for both money and tennis, the very naïve Sean Cork, and a bunch of terrorists that run the gamut in both sophistication and psychopathy.

The most interesting character is an MI5 agent named Clarence Tune. Tune is assigned to liaise with Brad, and keep him safe, which is telling on the perceived importance—or lack thereof—of Smith’s mission. Tune is not given high priority or sensitive assignments, and he is considered less an agent and more a liability by his peers. His character is summed early by Brad—

“Science has not told me so, but I think there must be some other substance excreted by people whose lives have been marked by failure. Such people emit a sour, acidic smell, the work of a few molecules, perhaps, and so primitive that it communicates on a psychic level I cannot understand.”

—if only partially accurate since Tune’s presence, and assistance, is essential to defeating the underlying terrorist plot. A plot that is not made clear until the final pages of the novel. The action is plausible, and the pacing is superb. It has the highest level of characterization of all the novels, and—despite an aged plot—is as readable today as it was 25 years ago. 

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