Army investigators track a deserter into the Venezuelan jungle.
DeMille's last thriller (The Cuban Affair, 2017) successfully incorporated Cuba's precarious internal politics into the plot, and this one—the first he's written with his son Alex—attempts to do the same with Venezuela's faltering existence. Kyle Mercer, a high-value Delta Force soldier, deserted his unit in Afghanistan, was captured by the Taliban, and then escaped his captors. He has been spotted in Venezuela, and Scott Brodie and Maggie Taylor, investigators for the Army's Criminal Investigation Division, are dispatched to bring him back to stand trial. This seems straightforward, but there are questions: Why did Mercer desert? Is the U.S. government wholly determined to have him brought back alive? And more immediately and practically, how can the CID team function in the failed state of Venezuela? The situation in Venezuela is painstakingly delineated, but it remains an element of the setting, never rising to the level of a plot device as Cuban political tensions did in the earlier novel; the result is a dreary repetition of the facts of life in Caracas: bribery and violence, violence and bribery. Brodie and Taylor are fortunate to secure the services of Luis, a Venezuelan driver who is a likable but somewhat predictable character, and with his help they are able to discover that Mercer has left Caracas and is now in the jungle in the south. The doughty investigators track him there, learn the ugly truth about his defection and about the real nature of Brendan Worley, the purported attaché in Caracas. There is much to like about this story: Brodie's and Taylor's attempts to avoid a growing attraction; a useful discussion of the legal definition of "desertion"; some of the descriptions of the geography of southern Venezuela; and the reminder of what those in power will do to avoid embarrassment. But the story is too long and lacks dramatic variety, asking over and over the same questions: Where is Mercer? Why did he do it? Who wants him dead rather than alive?
Too much and too little.