Mark Harris
May 03, 2002 AT 04:00 AM EDT

For years, the multitalented Frayn has shuttled gracefully between careers as an acclaimed playwright (Noises Off, the Tony-winning Copenhagen) and as a deft and perceptive novelist. The latter gift is in disappointingly short supply in his latest, an attenuated, very slender memory piece about a man who revisits a tragic episode from his childhood in Blitz-era London. Frayn’s writing is as elegant as ever, but here he’s contrived a plot — centered on a boy’s belief that his mother was a German spy — for a short story, not a novel; with its doomy had-I-but-known flash-forwards, heavy-footed sense of portent, and unwillingness to get to the point, Spies feels like one long evasive maneuver.

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