To do so, Buckley starts stacking his deck very early. In a prologue to The Redhunter, a history professor and former McCarthy colleague named Harry Bontecou sits reading a newspaper in a London club. The year is 1991, and as Harry muses over reports of Khmer Rouge atrocities, his mind wanders to the similar carnages committed by Stalin, the Nazis, and the East Germans. Only the arrival of an old, not entirely welcome acquaintance interrupts his reverie:
"Say." The insistent tone was off register in the quiet of the Garrick Club. One had the impression the leather volumes winced at Tracy's voice. "Didn't you used to be Harry Bontecou?"Obviously the leather volumes are prescient, for the reader soon realizes that Tracy Allshott is both drunk and boorish. After unsuccessfully baiting Bontecou on his early support of McCarthy, he announces priggishly that "there were those of us back in the fifties during the anti-Communist hysteria who were far-sighted and courageous enough to resist McCarthy and McCarthyism."
Whether it is Allshott's ungentlemanly accusations or an ensuing conversation with a repentant former Soviet spy, Harry soon resolves to tell his version of the McCarthy years and The Redhunter really starts to roll. Buckley is too accomplished a writer to hand us a Joseph McCarthy free of sin--indeed, as the story of the senator's life unfolds, we are made privy to such offenses as the teenaged Joe hiring a classmate to take a final exam for him and the young politico Joe stretching the truth to the breaking point in a dirty campaign against his opponent. But the essential morality of the House Un-American Activities Committee is never questioned. In Buckley's view, the threat of Communism was a real one--so real, in fact, that it superceded any notion of due process, free speech, freedom of association, or any of the other little liberties guaranteed in the Constitution. Regardless of how you view McCarthy's actions, however, Buckley's novel offers an entertaining and eye-opening account of his rise and fall, complete with the media frenzy, senate hearings, and back-room maneuverings we've come to expect from literary intrigues Washington-style. This may not be the most objective treatment of the McCarthy years (Buckley ends his novel with a eulogy by Senator Everett Dirksen that describes McCarthy's "reward" for suffering "the vindictive fury which was unleashed against him" as "the living, pulsing shrine of hundreds of thousands of hearts in America"), but for readers with a short memory, it's above average entertainment. --Margaret Prior
From Publishers Weekly
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