A countess and a CIA agent discover a nefarious plot to dissolve the European Union in Laurence’s debut, a spy-novel/mystery hybrid.
For most of her 50 years, Katie Talbot, aka Countess Katherine von Arnitz, has searched for her family’s missing treasures. Two brothers, Stefan and Oskar Shimonsky, took the valuable art from her ancestral estate in Germany—including a Titian now scheduled to be auctioned at Sotheby’s for an estimated $50 million. The masterpiece’s owner, Marshall Maxwell, invites Katie to a “Friends and Foes”–themed party and offers her a deal: If she drops the matter of provenance, he’ll give her a cut of the sale. But the next day, on a visit to the auction house, she notices the painting is a forgery. She and American secret agent Grant Henderson investigate and soon find a connection between the sales of Maxwell’s artwork and the surprising dominance of a far-right political party, the NDVP, which is looking to take seats in the Reichstag—and nudge the world into war. Meanwhile, a group of bungling assassins, led by ex-East German Olympian, Detlef Weber, are looking to kill Stefan. They make multiple attempts: After a car bomb fails, they kidnap the paraplegic Stefan (now posing as London resident Steven Jackson), drop him at the beach and leave him to drown in the tide. When this plan goes awry, they knife a horse’s hindquarters, causing it to bolt and “cannon” into the disabled man’s path. Readers may find these scenes a bit broadly comical for an otherwise politically astute book. The novel also depicts Grant as something of an American James Bond, particularly in his attitudes toward women. For example, when a German agent, an “early 30-something” blonde, leads Grant to her office, he notes “her taut bottom and superb legs, thinking that this experience alone made the trip worthwhile.” Readers, however, may find this attitude more crass than sexy. Although the author clearly knows his way around Berlin, Weimar, New York, London and even Naples, Fla., he unfortunately seems unable to locate believable female characters to propel his otherwise well-mapped story.
An uneven international thriller.