In the second installment of Safflind’s (Shadowmaster I: More or Less than Human, 2012) mystery-thriller series, a 1992 counterespionage group must solve a murder and stop a conflict on the other side of the world.
Barry Sandler witnesses a plane crash and manages to pull a woman named Helena from the wreckage. He takes her to his home, which also serves as the headquarters of Investigative Services Inc., an agency led by former psychologist Adrian Kahler, who has the ability to probe people’s minds. When Barry and Adrian are hired to look into the murder of a congressman’s aide whose body has been drained of blood, they keep finding connections to Helena—who rather selectively answers their questions. The novel boasts elements of a spy novel and a mystery, as the murder investigation has ties to the ongoing Yugoslavian civil war; cars try to run Barry and Helena off the road, and men attack them with guns and iron pipes. But the book ultimately focuses on the fantastical when Helena’s true nature slowly comes to light. Readers are likely to work out Helena’s secret well before Barry has a clue—although he has an excuse, as love evidently makes him much less perceptive. The couple’s burgeoning romance serves the novel well, particularly since the story retains an underlying threat: It isn’t easy to trust Helena when she lies about whom she knows. Other substantial characters include Stefan Jankovic, a Serbian whose warmonger father was killed by Croatians; and Stanley Egor, an expert marksman on Barry and Adrian’s investigative team who stands more than seven feet tall and tips the scales at 300-plus pounds. Like any good detective novel, Barry’s first-person narration is droll and cynical; when he fights a bad guy within arms’ reach, he notes that “his [arms] were longer,” and before a particularly stellar action scene, he checks his holster to make sure he’d “remembered to fill it with pistol.” The novel doesn’t require readers to have already read the series’ first book—but it will make them want to do so.
An exemplary continuation of Safflind’s mystery-thriller series.