THE BUTTON MAN by Brian Freemantle


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 That writers are dreaming up still more variations on the serial-killer thriller is some sort of testament to human ingenuity. Here, Freemantle (the seriocomic Charlie Muffin spy series, etc.) takes his own erratic stab at the subgenre by setting loose a maniac in Moscow, to be hunted down by a joint Russian- American task force. Who fatally knifed American embassy employee Ann Harris, then chopped off her hair and snipped the buttons from her coat? Colonel Dmitri Danilov of the Moscow People's Militia wants to know--as does Ann's powerful uncle, US Senator Walter Burden, whose meddling in the case forces Danilov to accept the help of FBI agent Bill Cowley. Cowley and Danilov cooperate edgily (it's some time before Danilov admits that a male cabbie has been killed in the same way as Ann), and Freemantle--whose thrillers are always character- driven--limns the tentative dance of trust between the two cops in suggestive detail (e.g., Danilov's fear that his stained shirt- -product of a typically broken Russian washing machine--will diminish him in the eyes of the gleaming Yank). Meanwhile, subplots about marital betrayal (Cowley's subordinate in Moscow is the FBI agent who stole his wife; Danilov is cheating on his own wife) add further resonance. But as the cops pursue clues (forensic, as well as eyewitness offered by a third victim, who survives) that lead them to accuse the wrong man, it becomes clear that, here, Freemantle's plotting skills fall short: Readers may i.d. the real killer long before the author intends, and they'll also see through his cursory attempts to shunt suspicion onto yet a third suspect. Read this for its smart local color and sharp insight into human relations--not for its strained, eventually almost suspenseless, storyline.

Pub Date: Aug. 19th, 1993
ISBN: 0-312-08716-0
Page count: 400pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 1993


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