In Frieden’s (Tranquility Denied, 2007, etc.) second Jonathan Brooks thriller, the maritime lawyer, looking into a mysterious drowning, finds himself in the midst of competing international spies and agencies.
It’s August 2005, and Hurricane Katrina is making its way to New Orleans. Jonathan Brooks, skeptical of the impending storm, is slow to evacuate, but soon has good reason for his delay: Mariya, a dangerous Russian spy who helped Jonathan a decade ago, has asked him to check the morgue for her nephew, Igor, who supposedly drowned. A deceased Asian man there is clearly not related to the Russian woman, although the attorney, for reasons not entirely apparent, falsely identifies the body. But as Katrina lays siege to New Orleans, Jonathan is stuck inside the Crescent City before he can get any info to the Russian woman. It’s abundantly clear that a coverup has begun when Jonathan and the pathologist, who’ve deduced that the corpse was a crewman, are attacked by unknown assailants. Jonathan finds the vessel on which the dead man may have been stationed, and he and Mariya head to Panama on a mission so covert that even Mariya isn’t entirely aware of the details—but she knows that something is making the Russians nervous. The author has concocted a labyrinthine but diverting spy story; various players—Mossad, North Korea and a couple of CIA assets—are given airtime, but their involvement isn’t wholly clarified until the end. Jonathan is the focus, and his story, with Hurricane Katrina filling the first half of the novel, is first-rate. The real-world setting is resounding, particularly because Katrina is palpable; its “gusts of wind” and sky “an ominous charcoal hue” are early signs of the inevitable devastation to follow. The novel’s latter half sustains an overall uneasiness by an uncertainty surrounding Mariya; Jonathan never fully trusts her. The Russians, meanwhile, have lost a few agents, and Jonathan helps them, paving the way for his more active role in the frenetic action sequences. But none of the gunfights or villains is a match for Hurricane Katrina. The storm renders an entire city helpless.
Frieden has churned out a solid espionage novel that respectfully employs a real-world tragedy to great effect.