The Impact of
On the road of the informer it is always night.
— WHITTAKER CHAMBERS 1
THE HISS CASE reads like a Henry James novel with extra Gothic overtones. One wanders in a labyrinth of lying, intrigue, and perjury. There is still some argument about the truthfulness of the leading characters, and in the subplots there are unsolved murders and unexplained suicides. Controversy over Hiss's trial, one of the most divisive in the century, has refused to die. At the time Hiss was called a Benedict Arnold and Chambers was denounced as a sadist and moral leper. A small but influential core of Americans continued over the years to believe Hiss to be the American Dreyfus; the larger number who read seriously about the case thought him to be simply a resilient liar.
In 1978 historian Allen Weinstein's brilliant volume of historical detection, Perjury: The Hiss-Chambers Case, concluded that Hiss had been guilty of perjury and espionage. Weinstein, who had first thought Hiss might well be innocent, found himself finally tracking down one lie after another. His book, definitive in its accumulation and analysis of the evidence, did not quite end the controversy—the author had predicted it would not—partly because he stayed with the facts and was chary about divining motives or character. Hiss in particular remained a well of mystery. The case lived on, troubling those who believed that to find Hiss guilty would be to sustain Nixon, which some could not do even if he was in the right.
Whittaker Chambers, who published an agonized confession, Witness, in 1952, and who died of a heart attack in 1961, had dur