Khoury’s thriller reaches back into history to set up a 21st-century showdown that adds a nice touch of science fiction.
In 1916, Russia is mired in a bloody, losing war and rapidly approaches dissolution. The mystic Rasputin exerts disastrous influence over the czarina, and his enemies resolve that he must die. His foes fail several times before finally doing him in, but his legacy lingers. In the Prologue, a “man of science” bears witness to strange murders in Siberia, which will leave readers wondering how it can possibly be relevant to the novel. But this back story frames a modern drama involving FBI agent Sean Reilly (the hero), a Russian scientist, a Russian intelligence operative and a formidable terrorist named Koschey. The scientist has a device that is certain to wreak immeasurable havoc on any people it targets. There is just enough of pre-revolution Russia to support the 2013 story, but Rasputin was such a compelling real-life villain that more back story woven in would have added to the fun. Still, the old ogre casts a long shadow: A Russian attaché jumps to his death in Queens; a CIA spook disappears; a retired Russian physics teacher goes missing. When Reilly finally learns how everything connects, the threat is both dire and hard for his superiors to believe. The premise requires mild suspension of disbelief, but Khoury carries the story off nicely.
Sure, the main action takes place far from Mother Russia. Still, this is a fast-paced, enjoyable tale.