Young spies, in and out of love, crisscross Turkey in Thomas’ debut thriller.
When State Department intern Penny Kessler regains consciousness in a hospital in Ankara, Turkey, she finds herself suspected of being complicit in the July 4 bombing that injured her and killed 256 American and Turkish employees. Frank Lerman, an odious State Department fixer, assisted by young Connor Beauregard, is at her bedside demanding she recount the moments before the blast, while her boss, Brenda Pelecchia, ineffectually tries to deflect him. Interest is centered on Zachary Robson, for whom Penny has conceived a soft spot in her heart and who disappears at the moment of the explosion. Penny is sure he’s a victim of terrorists, though Frank and others are less convinced of his innocence. No sooner is Penny more or less fully conscious than Turkish Prime Minister Bolu arrives to “invite” her to put herself in the care of the presidential physicians. Penny resists, Bolu insists, the State Department caves in, and suddenly Penny is an incarcerated guest of Melek Palamut, daughter of the authoritarian president, in the brand-new Presidential Palace. Penny escapes, intrigues abound: Connor and Zach are both CIA agents; Melek has connections to Connor’s boss at Langley; Zach may have been abetting the Hashashin terrorists who are assumed to have planted the bomb. Miraculous escape follows miraculous escape and events spiral ever further into implausibility, as innocent, young, untrained Penny seeks, with Connor’s help, to rescue Zach, who, it turns out, is as devious as mostly everyone else. It’s one thing to suspend disbelief, quite another to buy the bridge—Thomas asks too much of the reader. And it's too bad, because the local color, from murky Turkish politics to the nuances of meaning a head covering may convey, is well and clearly rendered. Thomas was a Fulbright scholar in Turkey, and she has a good eye for detail and a clear affection for the country and the people, but the story she has built depends too heavily on the derring-do of the impossibly plucky young Penny.
An unconvincing romp through a convincingly described Turkey.