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Gangs of the rich and clandestine square off multinationally, in a minor effort by the veteran thrillermeister (Whistler’s Angel, 2001, etc.).

Artemus Bourne owns half of the US government, he boasts, a fact that in his view armors him against the depravations of puny antagonists such as Paul Bannerman. Who is Bannerman, after all, he asks, a semirhetorical question he answers just for the sake of reassurance. A nobody, he says, “More legend than substance.” Man, does he have that wrong. Bourne’s gang of global bad guys—headed by the conscienceless Chester Lily and ready at any time to maim, torture, or kill—is impressive enough by ordinary cutthroat standards. Measured against “Bannerman's people”—well, think tomcats taking on tigers. Bourne’s travail begins on the day he receives a large package from Angola: the chopped-off heads of three valued associates stuffed in VaalChem containers. VaalChem, a company owned by Bourne, is up to no good, of course—grotesque behavior having to do with the tactical (and profitable) spread of plague. What Bourne should have done is shrug off the triple decapitation, annoying as it was, as a lesser setback in a string of glowing successes and gone about his usual business of suborning, blackmailing, manipulating, and controlling senators and cabinet officers in the interest of one reprehensible operation or another. Takes two to tangle would have been wise counsel. Instead, unwisely, he decides to retaliate. This means going after a certain hot-tempered Bourne-hater named Martin Kessler, who happens to be closely connected to Paul Bannerman: Bannerman, the quiet, unassuming, modest, even shadowy leader of a distinctly unofficial band of Robin Hood–like commandos, is particularly dangerous when a hurt has been put on one of his own. So it’s Bourne vs. Bannerman, rival gangs ready to rumble. Strictly no contest.

Interesting cast, good action scenes, but bursts of backstory talkiness tend to undermine both.

Pub Date: March 18th, 2003
ISBN: 0-06-000584-X
Page count: 400pp
Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 2003


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