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A promising but unsatisfying debut thriller about a piano player lots of people want to shoot.

John Harper used to work for the kind of superclandestine agency that makes the CIA seem like the Elks. Now he plays piano well enough to be a fave among the Beltway’s rich and powerful. He likes his life, particularly since the rich and powerful frequently have gorgeous and sexy wives to whom Harper’s way with the standards is catnip. Reenter Harper’s former mentor, silky Mr. Smith, with a project. Since Mr. Smith has always been a hard man for Harper to deny, he’s not surprised to find himself out-talked, out-maneuvered and outbound to Panama, where a remote resort hotel sports an enigmatic guest list connected in some way to the training of a potent private army. Harper knows nothing about Panama (“I don’t even own a Panama hat”), but the hotel suddenly requires a replacement piano player, and Mr. Smith requires information. Harper will penetrate the mysteries of the guest list, pinpoint the purpose of the army, and be back in DC in time to shine at the New Year’s galas, Mr. Smith promises. Fair enough, says Harper, but what happened to the previous piano-playing agent? He was eaten by a shark, he’s told in a way that suggests the shark may have had help. Almost at once, Harper becomes persona non grata with a variety of ruthless people. He’s threatened, pursued, beaten up and nearly killed several times as he attempts to satisfy Mr. Smith’s need to know. On the other hand, two lovely ladies are just as responsive as their stateside counterparts to the way he tickles the ivories.

A likable hero, stylistic panache, but an unfocused plot: talent in search of a story.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 2005
ISBN: 0-312-32131-7
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Dunne/Minotaur
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 2004