A reluctant agent pursues a mysterious document through multiple layers of deception and misdirection.
Prince Abdul Aziz ibn Saud’s motorcade is ambushed in Paris, and most of hell breaks loose. Tino Coluzzi, a member of the Corsican Mafia, has robbed the prince not only of 600,000 Euros, but also of a letter—a letter that Vassily Borodin, director of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, hopes to use to oust the Russian president. The prince, who also happens to be the chief of Saudi Arabia’s secret police, has acted as Borodin’s agent in acquiring the document, and Coluzzi is acting as the agent of an as-yet unnamed American. The American wants the letter; Coluzzi gets to keep the money. But Coluzzi is greedy and decides to keep the letter too, which sets in motion two new agents. Borodin’s is Valentina Asanova, a beautiful Russian assassin; the American, now named Barnaby Neill, calls on Simon Riske, an American living in London with a business restoring high-end sports cars. Riske has a shadowy background and possesses unusual talents and skills. He’s been in banking and also in a French prison; he was a street hoodlum, but a fellow-prisoner Jesuit priest gave him college-level instruction and a not-so-formal education in self-defense. He is an expert pickpocket, first seen stealing back a valuable stolen watch. Though he is reluctant to work for Neill, he agrees when he learns that Coluzzi is the thief—he has a long-standing grievance against Coluzzi. Nikki Perez, a Paris police detective, meets with Riske in Paris, and though at first she has her own career to tend to, eventually she becomes an ally. All Riske’s talents and skills are called upon as he tries to retrieve the letter and get a measure of revenge against Coluzzi. He even figures out the deeper game being played. Riske is a likable character, as is Perez, but neither is really compelling, and the rest are pretty predictable: the blonde Russian assassin, an inscrutable CIA mandarin, a blustering French police captain. The evocations of Provence are nice, the plotting is competently handled, but in the end there’s not enough sizzle.
Solid if underwhelming jaunt through France.