Reviewed by RICHARD & KAREN LA PORTE:    

JOHN GARDNER – The Secret Generations. Putnam, hardcover, 1985. Charter, paperback, 1986.

JOHN GARDNER The Secret Generations.

   This might be called The Railton Saga. It is billed as a panorama covering the years between 1910 and 1939. It begins in 1910 with the death of General Sir William Railton, but almost all of the story is in the first decade.

   When Sir William dies his brother takes over the clandestine network of informants the General has gathered. One by one brother Giles works other members of the family into the league. His daughter is in Paris with her French husband. One son, Andrew, is in London with a cover in the State Department. The other is in Ireland with his Irish wife Bridget and both are operating, unbeknownst to the other, inside the Sinn Fein.

   The General’s two sons, John and Charles, are also in the family business. And, eventually, Denise of the third generation is in occupied Belgium running a courier service behind the Kaiser’s lines.

   You can’t fault Gardner’s writing. It’s up with the best and it shows off well in a long novel like this. There are plots within plots, many twists to every turn, and any other cliche you would like to use.

   But there is no cliched material in this book. The story line is unusual and the people are fresh, bright, right for their parts, and carefully drawn. The post-WWI sections are brief but revealing as a lightning-lit scene. The last chapter brings a surprise that backlights the rest of the story with a whole new meaning of the idea of “double agent.”

— Reprinted from The Poisoned Pen, Vol. 6, No. 4,
Fall 1986.

       The Railton Family series —

The Secret Generations. Heinemann, UK, 1985 [1909-1935]
The Secret Houses. Bantam, UK, 1988 [1940s]
The Secret Families. Bantam, UK, 1989 [1964]