VIOLENT WARD by Len Deighton


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 What's a veteran cold war novelist to do when there's no more cold war? In the case of British spymaster Deighton, head west for a knotty, if zesty, seriocomic thriller set against Aspen snow and L.A. sleaze. You suspect Deighton's off stride when he starts with a small cheat: Mickey Murphy--a rumpled L.A. attorney whose appealingly grumpy narration energizes the story--huddles behind his desk, trying not to frighten ``the woman'' perched on his office window ledge. Mickey finally coaxes ``the woman'' inside--and only then tells us that she's his ex-wife, angling for a handout. Mickey's day goes downhill from there, as he meets with an actor who wants a gun, visits his own wastrel son, and attends a party thrown by Zack Petrovich, the tycoon who's just bought control of Mickey's small law firm--and who's married to his old flame Ingrid. At the party, Mickey chances upon a bomb hidden in Zack's phone: Who's trying to kill his new boss? Is it Ingrid--who claims that Zack wants to kill her? What do these threatened murders have to do with the body-snatching scheme by which one of Mickey's clients will be declared dead in order to run off with an illicit fortune? And who knocked off and then freeze-dried the retired hit man who claimed, just before he died, that Ingrid had asked him to kill Zack? A picturesque visit to Zack's Aspen ranch doesn't clarify matters, but Mickey finds plenty more to grumble about as he tends to his vintage Caddie and mouths off about foreign cars, smoking, lax airport security, and even appliance-repair requirements, meanwhile tying together plot threads right up to a twisty finale that's not half as compelling as the burning cityscape--courtesy of L.A.'s 1992 riots--that backdrops it. Like sugarcoating on a pill, Mickey's lively patter makes the contorted, lumpy storyline easier to swallow--but this kind of bumptious California thriller really isn't Deighton's bag. (First printing of 125,000)

Pub Date: July 28th, 1993
ISBN: 0-06-017938-4
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 1993


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