Seldom, if ever, have the cloak-and-dagger folk—of any stripe, ours or theirs—appeared so omniscient, so omnipotent and so perfectly awful as they do in Kellerman’s mordantly funny latest.
If you put the question to him—and he was of a mind to answer it—Arthur Pfefferkorn would probably acknowledge that, yes, he’d led one of those gray lives up to now, a life without much in the way of accomplishment. He was what he was—a middle-aged English professor at an undistinguished university, whose courses were neither flocked to nor fled from. True, there was that long-ago novel: respectful reviews, bleak sales figures. This, of course, is in marked contrast to the performance of internationally famous William de Vallée, who pumps out bestsellers as if they were pellets from a shotgun and who happens to be Arthur’s oldest and best friend. But then suddenly, Bill is lost at sea, occasioning in Arthur’s life what amounts to a sea change. Deeply involved in this are the luscious Carlotta, Bill’s not-so-grieving widow, and a certain unfinished thriller, the completion of which implies Arthur’s acceptance of that old fictional standby: the Faustian bargain. Turns out that Bill wasn’t just an internationally famous, bestselling author. He was also a highly effective American spy, whose loss has created an intolerable vacuum. He has to be replaced. “Tag,” says the satanic superagent who explains all this to Arthur. “You’re it.” And just like that, Arthur Pfefferkorn’s life goes from gray to incandescent.
Another brilliant performance from Kellerman (The Executor, 2010, etc.). Potboiler? Hardly. Kellerman has fun here, and so will his readers.