International intrigue in the 21st century, according to Reich’s latest thriller, looks an awful lot like international intrigue in the 20th.
After an Alpine skiing accident takes the life of beautiful nurse Emma, her widow, Dr. Jonathan Ransom, a surgeon who works for Doctors Without Borders, opens an envelope addressed to her to find a pair of claim checks. When he and Emma’s friend Simone Noiret travel to Landquart to reclaim the checked items—two suitcases—they attract the attention of a pair of Swiss police officers who grab the bags and then, when Jonathan resists, try to kill him. Acting just like any of Reich’s other intrepid amateur spies (The Patriots Club, 2005, etc.), he kills one of them, leaves the other seriously wounded and takes to the road. What to make of the mysterious items he finds inside the suitcases when he finally has a minute to look? Jonathan knows only that he’s seeing a side of Emma he never suspected. But a series of obligingly interspersed chapters has already alerted savvy readers to a high-stakes plot. It’s clear early on that it involves a superstitious assassin called the Ghost, a zealous anti-terrorist called the Pilot and the struggle for knowledge about lightweight, unpiloted drone aircraft and control of Iran’s nuclear stockpile. What’s not clear till much later—some readers will never be certain—is who’s on first, given that the law-enforcement personnel of two different countries seem intent mainly on dispatching their compatriots in rival law-enforcement divisions. For better or worse, they all more or less succeed.
Proof positive that whatever state-of-the-art labels you paste on fictional spies, their main appeal remains nostalgic.