Valjan’s second novel in the Roma trilogy finds Alabaster Black, a covert government analyst, in Boston on the run from a mysterious assassin.
Valjan’s latest quickly picks up from where the author’s last novel, the intricately plotted speleological thriller Roma,Underground (2012) left off: Alabaster Black has reclaimed her place in the covert government agency known as “Rendition,” though she’s far from trusting them completely. While embroiling herself in the scientific affairs of a dubious pharmaceutical technology company owned by the wealthy Cyril Sargent, she realizes that the past she left behind in Rome has not been fully forgotten. Again, Valjan successfully conflates multiple sophisticated narratives that bring the past and present together, which the archaeological theme of the last novel also helps accomplish. Old friends and love interests, as well as Mafiosi and Bulgarian hit men, infuse this novel with vital excitement and suspense. Black is a capable heroine and a good balance against an overabundance of Italian machismo and Irish-American testosterone. Though often aided by stereotypical “intuition,” Black’s decision-making process isn’t patronizing, especially since her intuition is more than a mystical feminine feeling; it’s actually rooted in levelheaded logic. Although Valjan proves himself to be a capable writer, some of the novel’s many twists and turns fall flat due to too much foreshadowing. Also, some details become bothersome and superfluous; in a crime thriller, intricacy is essential, but some details, such as a paragraph-long description of a cellphone powering up, are glaringly unnecessary. That said, the many diverging storylines come together quickly, and the mood and pace remain consistent throughout this thrilling page-turner.
Black is back and just as entertaining as ever.