An emotional and highly deceptive plea entices forensic sculptor Eve Duncan from Atlanta to Africa, where all hell promptly breaks loose.
Journalist Jill Cassidy wants Eve to drop what she’s doing and book passage to the fictional country of Maldara, where an attack by Botzan rebels on a village school has left 27 children dead. Eve can render the bereaved parents a priceless service, urges Jill, if she uses her matchless skills to reconstruct busts of the deceased from their skulls, and she plies Eve with enough sob-story details to overcome her resistance. But she doesn’t tell Eve the truth, or at least not the whole truth. The real reason Jill and CIA agent Jed Novak want Eve to come is so she can determine that a 28th skull—that of mercenary Nils Varak—isn’t really Varak’s at all but another skull intended to make the world believe he’s dead. Eve, already stung by Jill’s deception, points out that the skull has tested positive for Varak’s DNA; Jill counters that it must have been faked. While Jill and Novak try to come up with evidence that would support their theory and Eve begins her painstaking reconstructive work on the skulls, Zahra Kiyani, who accepted the presidency of Maldara after her father, the incumbent, was assassinated, seizes more and more greedily the power she thinks is due her as a descendant of Cleopatra’s daughter Kiya and the country’s rightful queen. She uses her sexual dominance over U.N. diplomat Edward Wyatt to wring concessions from the international community and holds terse exchanges with an unseen party over what to do about this interloping American. How can Eve and her ragtag allies possibly prevail against such entrenched and well-armed adversaries? Readers who take this last question seriously are clearly newcomers to Johansen’s venerable franchise (Dark Tribute, 2019, etc.).
No matter how intense the action gets, the outcome, for better or worse, is never in doubt.