Once more to Moscow and the Russian tundra on a supersecret mission goes a solitary hero in a thriller that makes the familiar seem fresh.
There’s little in this book that thriller aficionados haven’t encountered—agents who may be double agents, an attractive woman who holds vital information, and sources trustworthy and treacherous. From all this, author Haas (Dark Men, 2011, etc.) has crafted a lean and mean tale laced with wit, mordant insight and, at perfectly judged moments, flashes of sharp prose. The “right hand” of the title is Austin Clay, who carries out “covert missions so black no one in the American government, and almost no one in intelligence” is aware of his exploits. Shrewd perceptions and nearly superhuman agility and shooting skills keep Clay atop his game as he plays “dirty street chess, the kind played in Washington Square Park in New York…where half the game is guff, intimidation and smack.” For the mission at hand, Clay’s handler packs him off to Russia to learn what has happened to missing agent Blake Nelson, who may have become a double agent or may have been murdered. Once in Moscow, sources lead Clay to believe Marika Csontos, a missing 18-year-old nanny, may have been passing Nelson information about clandestine dealings between Iran and Russia. Deftly dispatching pursuing Russian agents, Clay heads to Vladivostok where he finds Marika, who of course, is attractive. The two head back to Russia—with more Soviet agents in pursuit—to search for Nelson. Screenwriter Haas (3:10 to Yuma) paces his tale with crack action scenes that, however well they read on the page, may soon have film directors calling “Action!” These high-octane scenes, however, never detract from Haas’ canny plotting, which is capped by a final, unexpected twist and a poignant fade-out.
It’s not the game, but how well you play it, and Haas plays it very well indeed in what clearly seems a series launch.