CONTROL by A. J. Mahler

CONTROL

From the "The Betty Chronicles" series, volume 3
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KIRKUS REVIEW

In this third installment of Mahler’s (Power, 2015, etc.) thriller series, spy Betty Thursten struggles to stop a nefarious organization from obtaining enough wealth and power to start a world war.

Betty’s thirst for vengeance against whomever murdered her fiance, José Silva, has yet to be satiated. Control, the covert agency she works for, currently has the hit man in custody who took José out. But it wisely keeps the assassin out of Betty’s reach, because he could provide important intelligence on the Cabal, Control’s longtime nemesis. Control’s leader (and Betty’s current lover), Tom Howell, meets with a high-level Cabal member after the evil organization blows up the home of his late father (the former Control head); they call a truce of sorts, to avoid a “Pyrrhic victory.” That Cabal member is Ernesto Montoya, who likely ordered the hit on José. Still, he joins Betty on an assignment in Vail, Colorado, helping her get close to Cabal leadership. Vail turns out to be a hub for agents from both groups, including Betty’s ex-lover and former partner, Gil Richardson, who’s keeping tabs on Betty’s ex–best friend, Jil Harper. Betty must figure out who the bad guys really are—not so easy when they’re often interchangeable with the good. Mahler dives right into this series entry without an opening recap, which may baffle new readers. But things do get clearer as the speedy plot rages on, ultimately revealing a maze of relationships between multiple characters. The bulk of the action is relegated to the exhilarating second half, set in Vail, where Betty displays her skills with a knife, her fists, and a Black Card. The story is further intensified by the agent’s growing distrust of nearly everyone, which, at one point, necessitates “a stiff drink to wipe away her paranoia.” It’s primarily gloomy in tone, but lighter moments shine through, such as the promise of genuine, romantic feelings between Gil and Jil.

A fast-paced, crowded tale that’s sure to spark another sequel.

Program: Kirkus Indie
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