In Howell’s debut thriller about terrorism, conspiracy and corruption, a former government operative with a troubled past teams up with an FBI agent to untangle a dangerous web that stretches from Afghanistan to Washington.
A leak in the highest echelons of government sends intelligence agent Matt J. back into Afghanistan as an undercover private security officer with orders to collect intel on every congressional delegation visiting the country. While providing routine security detail for an anti-war congresswoman, an ambush leaves Afghani civilians dead and Matt facing a federal indictment. Whoever is leaking information is in league with the terrorists, but Matt doesn’t have the chance to prove it. Instead, he fakes his death and goes off the grid. Years later, a suspicious foreigner raises Matt’s hackles, and he’s suddenly back in the game, teaming up with FBI agent Samantha “Sam” Calvert to unearth a terrorist network. Their primary clue is a list containing 10 names and 10 cities. Someone higher up, though, doesn’t want Matt or Sam to discover the truth and repeatedly throws up roadblocks to their investigation. The whole mess is connected somehow—the botched security mission, the congresswoman, the list and maybe even the government itself. Howell knows his stuff and incorporates a plethora of detail on military movements in Afghanistan, government’s corrupt inner workings and intelligence gathering. The pacing slows, though, when he launches into unnecessary back story on secondary characters or unimportant information, and too many characters make it difficult to keep track of individual subplots. That aside, Howell’s gift for snappy dialogue and intricate plot twists keeps the story moving, and his timely, though familiar, theme of government corruption, negligence and political correctness involving the war on terror hits home. Fans of Tom Clancy’s meticulous page-turners will appreciate the book’s sublime detail and cracking wit.
Though a slow start dims its shine, Howell’s freshman effort satisfies without indulging in dramatics.