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by Pete Earley

Pub Date: June 1st, 2005
ISBN: 0-765-30784-7
Publisher: Tor

Twisty chase thriller involving a spectrum of Russian agents, rogue and regular, pursued by a volatile and incompatible pair of Americans.

In 1955 Moscow, Soviet physicist Andrei Bobkov goes on the run when he realizes that he knows too much for his own well being—specifically, that a devastating nuclear bomb is hidden somewhere in a major American city (Washington, D.C., it’s eventually revealed). The story then jumps 50 years and fans out to multiple perspectives. College student Olga Khrenkov, a Russian émigré studying in Brooklyn, is kidnapped in broad daylight by Russian thug Viktor Manakov. The young woman is used as a bargaining chip in a complicated plan to “convince” her brother Vladimir, a possibly corrupt colonel in the intelligence agency GRU, to assassinate witness Sergey Pudin, about to testify in detail about Russian mob operations in Brighton Beach. As Khrenkov makes his way across the ocean, recently captured Chechen rebel Oleg Kotlyar suffers extensive torture in an effort to elicit information about the dangerous Movladi “The Viper” Islamov, a rebel leader and international terrorist. Kimberly Lodge, an abrasive and habitually tardy CIA counterterrorism expert, receives a briefing at Langley about the Viper and his projected activities while Wyatt Henry Conway, a rugged U.S. Deputy Marshal and (oddly) the only character who relates his own narrative thread in the first person, shares snippets of past exploits and some of the minutiae of his job as he takes control of Pudin’s protection. Khrenkov does complete his mission and return to Russia, besmirching Conway’s record and wounding his pride. But that’s just the curtain raiser to the main attraction: the proverbial race against the clock, the fierce Islamov in pursuit of the fabled bomb with Kimberly, Conway and a reluctant Khrenkov close behind.

Earley (The Big Secret, 2004, etc.) keeps pace and paranoia effectively high, but his characters need deepening. It’s also difficult following who’s who in his large Russian supporting cast. A good warm-up for Tolstoy.