together, and when the dustnhad settled, there we were, andnwho else was going to setnthings straight and feed the folknand guard the gate and dig thendrains — oh, aye, and take thenprofit, by all means. . . . WhennI’m done, you may not benmuch clearer on how the mapnof the world came to benone-fifth pink, but at least younshould realize that it ain’tnsomething to be summed up innan epigram. Absence of mind,nmy arse. We always knew whatnwe were doing; we just didn’tnalways know how it would pannout.nHere again, Flashman gives us the greatncanvas, noble and ignoble flung down,nand overiaid with the chaos and energynof a painting by Jackson Pollock. It lacksnthe scientific rigor with which Marxnunderstood the British Empire, and itnwouldn’t play at Stanford Universityntoday — or if it did, it would be asnProsecutorial Exhibit Number One. Itnis, on the other hand, life — life asnShakespeare, Cervantes, Fielding, andnGibbon understood the word. Humann—all too human.nChilton Williamson, ]r. is seniorneditor for books at Chronicles.nThe RomanticnStreaknby Brad LinaweavernTucker’s Last Standnby William F. Buckley, Jr.nNew York: Random House;n259 pp., $19.95nAreview of an early Blackford Oakesnnovel referred to Mr. Buckley’snhandling of a sex scene as the HardynBoys go to a bordello. In this, the ninthnbook in the series, Buckley demonstratesna surer grasp, one might say, ofnsuch matters. There is a sense in whichnOakes’s missions for the CIA, reconstitutednand romanticized from authenticnevents, are themselves a form of hankypanky.nBuckley’s James Bondish heronreally knows how to fool around.n34/CHRONICLESnThis time William F. Buckley, Jr.,nplaces his hero in harm’s way with anstory about the Vietnam War. As eachnadventure in the series brings us closernto the present day, Buckley loses somenof the advantage of distance from thenevents being portrayed. Each of thesennovels contains large portions of contemporarynhistory. He is most comfortablenportraying the great, imaginingnwhat passes for small talk in their councils.nThere is an almost slapstick qualitynwhenever President Johnson is on stage,nand no one who reads this novel willnever forget (no matter how hard henmight try) the description of LBJ in thennude. Buckley displays a genuine affectionnfor Barry Goldwater, and some ofnhis funniest dialogue is reserved fornexchanges between Mr. Conservativenand his handlers. He finds irresistiblenthe temptation to recycle one-liners andnclever editorial commentary from NationalnReview and to place them in thenmouths of his political characters.nThe only trouble with all this admittedlynentertaining stuff is that it overshadowsnthe novel. The problemsnfaced by Oakes and his partner, onenTucker Montana, in interdicting traflEcnon the Ho Chi Minh Trail can’t hold ancandle to all the scheming going onnbehind the scenes for the 1964 presidentialnelection. It is not that Buckleynstints on action or danger — each onenof these novels fulfills the criteria of thenspy genre—but that his interest liesnmore with those who formulate policynthan with the poor bastards who havento carry it out. And yet his heart is withnthe latter: a genuine sympathy infusesnparticular scenes that depict a dividednhumanity, facing itself across the barricades.nPart of the interest in Tucker’s LastnStand is in that tension between whatnMao so aptly termed hearts and minds.nA number of critics have compared thenOakes novels to the work of John LenCarre, but this clearly is a mistake.nThat Buckley avoids the potboiler aspectnof the genre is incontestable, butnhe is still very much writing melodramaticnfare about good guys and badnguys. Le Carre uses the settings andnprops of spy fiction to ignore the genre,nand to write a different breed of novelnentirely. The moral ambiguity of LenCarre’s universe is what Buckley isngoing up against.nThis is especially evident in thennnlatest novel, where the main characternis not really Blackford Oakes but TuckernMontana (shifting the focus to otherncharacters is a method Buckley frequentlynemploys to keep the seriesnfrom going stale). Tucker is the emotionalnopposite of a Le Carre character,nbut he has had the sort of’experiencesnthat sour a spy and make him thinknabout coming in from the cold. Innother words, he thinks like an adolescentnin a world of adults — which isnhow his creator manages to put across anstrong element of romanticism.nFor with a subject as unpopular asnthe Vietnam War, Buckley needs to benable to play it both ways. There is noncompelling reason for Blackford Oakesnto be under a cloud of gloom concerningnhis latest covert operations (stagemanagingnthe Culf of Tonkin incident),nexcept that both author andnreader know the war will be a disasternfor the United States. One wonders ifnTucker Montana’s divided loyaltiesnmight receive less sympathy from hisnfriend Blackie if the war were notnforedoomed. As it is, Buckley allowsnhis most sympathetic character yet tonsuffer from what might be called atomicnangst; and in true pulp-fiction style.nTucker is a guy who has enough expertise,nand sufficient experience, to fillnresumes for a dozen illustrious careersn(among other things he did technicalnwork on the Hiroshima bomb).nWhenever this novel threatens tonbecome a techno-thriller, and thenbackground seems excruciatingly thorough,nwe are reminded of the humannbeing behind the lectures: TuckernMontana, the overgrown kid, whomnRufus the spymaster refers to as angenius who isn’t very bright. He is anman who can single-handedly wipe outna platoon in the Philippines, or single-n.handedly devise a system of automaticnsensors to bedevil the enemy he insistsnupon calling gooks, but who is helplessnagainst the most consistently recurringnproblem in the Blackford Oakes novels:nwomen.nWhether it is Oakes himself, unablento win true devotion from long-sufferingnSally, or the latest in a series ofnsupremely competent warriors who arenso desperate for love that they willnbelieve any lie spoken by alluring lips,nthese novels are modern in the chasmnthey both dread and celebrate. InnNietzsche’s phrase, the abyss looksn