Geiger, a strange, dispassionate genius at torture who hires himself out to clients in need of high-level "information retrieval," must confront deeply repressed memories of his traumatic upbringing when a duplicitous client uses a young boy as a pawn.
The inquisitor has no conscious memory of his life before he was woken on a New York bus 15 years ago, when he was 19 or 20. A systematic practitioner of his craft, he has an unshakable rule against torturing children, so when a client brings in the 12-year-old son of an alleged art thief (who turns out to be a whistleblower on CIA misdeeds), Geiger is forced to improvise to keep the kid unharmed. His slowly developing attachment to the boy alters his emotional state, which he has been exploring with a psychiatrist since he began suffering from excruciating migraines following dreams about his childhood—migraines he can endure only by curling up in a dark closet with classical music pouring in. Everyone in the book is damaged: Geiger's shrink is going through the pangs of divorce; his partner Harry, a onetime newspaper man hired for his computer skills, is a recovering alcoholic; and Harry's sister is a low-functioning schizophrenic. We learn that Geiger's father subjected him to razor cuts to make him strong. We also learn that the bad guys are not after a stolen de Kooning but evidence of governmental abuse. The plotting gets a bit slick down the stretch, and Geiger gets a bit softer than we might hope. But he is still one of the most utterly distinctive protagonists in a recent thriller, and one of the most unexpectedly sympathetic. (His arch competitor in the business, Dalton, has none of his intelligence or subtlety.) Smith invests his first novel with psychological dimensions you might expect in a third or fourth book.
A breezy, involving thriller that handily overcomes any resistance to its grisly premise and leaves you hoping for the return of its oddly winning hero.