Katarina Hollister is a second-generation U.S. foreign service officer who’s been expelled from Cuba on her first tour and sent to Kyrgyzstan, her late mother's homeland.
That suits Kate fine, as she attended high school there during her father's diplomatic mission. She speaks fluent Kyrgyz and has strong ties to the people and culture—but not to its dictatorial government. She blames president-for-life Nuran Eraliev for the murders of her parents, and naturally she hates him for it. Kate’s Uncle Harry, the current U.S. Ambassador to Kyrgyzstan, asks her to get inside the underground democracy movement, learn the identity of its leader (who has the nom de guerre Seitek), and let him know the U.S. can help. This unusual plot setup, with the main character nearly as Kyrgyz as she is American, lets the reader see the action up close and in vivid, colorful detail. Kate’s mission is just as personal as it is official, as she seeks friends and an aunt swept up by the oppressive regime. She must infiltrate Prison Number One for answers and then escape the clutches of the torturer-in-chief nicknamed Torquemada. That will take doing what’s possible, not what’s perfect, her uncle advises: “You should never allow the best to be the enemy of the good.” But CIA Station Chief Larry Crespo’s advice is less avuncular: “sometimes, sweetie, you have to take your favorite dog out behind the barn and shoot it.” Crespo accuses Kate of violating “every imaginable principle of diplomatic practice,” but rules are made for fictional heroines to break. On the other side, the dictatorial system eats its own, and Eraliev and his henchmen are “dancing in the dragon’s jaws.”
A fine read with a heroine too honorable to shoot the dog.