In this caustic, action-filled thriller, an American computer-coding whiz hiding out in sweltering Phnom Penh makes the mistake of trading identities with a high-powered businessman who looks exactly like him.
Congress wants Kyle West for contempt for skipping out on charges relating to his work for a billionaire government contractor under indictment. Reputed to be the man who first made cellphones ignite improvised explosive devices, West is talked into temporarily trading passports with the shady Julian Robinson, who claims to work for a German telecom company. Robinson convinces his doppelganger that he needs the false ID to conduct business in Africa anonymously. West, who suffers from bad anxiety, discovers that life can get worse when, mistaken for Robinson, he is abducted by Chinese thugs and assigned a job by Russian supergangster Andrei Protosevitch. And then there's Lara, Robinson's gun-happy, Russian-born girlfriend, who first seduces West and then tries to kill him. The CIA man on the case is Fowler, a Vietnam veteran who, like most of the characters, has one foot in the '60s (West's parents were leftist radicals; the Russians are post-communists) even as the constant presence of CNN anchors everyone in the all-knowing present. Applying postmodern polish to the foreign intrigue of Graham Greene and Eric Ambler, first-time novelist Mennuti and Hollywood screenwriter Guggenheim (Safe House, 2012) don't scrimp on the chase scenes and bloody encounters, one of which leaves West with a knife protruding from his stomach. Beware, too, the army of glue-sniffing monkeys being pursued by the Cambodian cops.
Though a novel without much of a moral compass, it leaves an imprint with its lively cast of characters, pungent locale and dizzy plotting.