Anonymous love letters sent to a young bartender catch the attention of a Homeland Security agent in this debut thriller.
Jeri Halston, 26, has a master’s degree in economics, but after the shock of her father’s death, she seems content to tend bar at Joe’s Last Chance Saloon in Flagstaff, Ariz. Someone starts mailing her long, witty love letters from all over the world, always including a Polaroid of the writer (face obscured) wearing a Joe’s Last Chance Saloon T-shirt and a P.S.: “Don’t order dog.” Tom Coleman, a germophobic Homeland Security agent who couldn’t qualify for the CIA, becomes intrigued by the letters (posted on the bar’s bulletin board) and decides to investigate their places of origin and dates. When he brings his alarming discoveries to his supervisor, Tom soon finds himself a pawn in a territory (and budget) fight between Homeland Security and the CIA. Meanwhile, the mysterious letter writer appears to be an assassin, involved in chemicals, explosions and hinted-at, grisly-sounding “packages.” The true nature of the anonymous writer, his actions, his letters, his associates and the packages will keep readers guessing until late in the novel. Wente is a skilled if sometimes-unpolished writer, weaving an exciting story to a surprising conclusion filled with insider-y details about his far-flung settings and secretive organizations. It’s only after putting the novel down that the reader may realize how needlessly elaborate some of these shenanigans are, especially in times of instant anonymous communication. Wouldn’t Internet cafes, throwaway phones, WikiLeaks and the like have been a lot easier? Sure, but not nearly as much fun. Also, though Jeri is meant to be the protagonist (the book is billed as Jeri Halston Series, Volume 1) she doesn’t get to do much but pour drinks and tuck locks of hair behind her ears. Let’s hope she’s more prominent in her next outing.
A fiendishly tricky (sometimes-overcomplicated) thriller with a brain, a sense of humor and a promising heroine.