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Pearson learned a lesson from the warm reception of his slam-bang first thriller, Never Look Back (1985), and he doesn't look back for a second as he throws another steaming succession of thrills into his new bloodboiler. The albatross of the title is Iben Hoist, a Soviet spy whose code name is taken from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner; in this plot, the blood of the albatross brings bad luck to nearly all concerned. Deceptively, the novel begins in Regensburg, West Germany, as CIA agent Sharon Johnson shares a hotel dinner with a tuxedo-clad agent whose cover is blown and who dies before her eyes, poisoned and clutching a photograph. On the run, Sharon finds herself stabbing and shooting pursuers while topless in pantyhose (a charmingly erotic scene), once even knifing a policeman by error. Soon, she's off to Seattle, hoping to help uncover ""Wilhelm,"" the mastermind of a Soviet ring stealing CIA technology. Wilhelm has moved to Seattle and is looking for an agent to corrupt. The reader is led into a rerun of The Spy Who Came in From the Cold as recovering alcoholic agent Roy Kapella is chosen to be a stalking horse for Wilhelm: Kapella must simulate going back on the bottle, must lose a lot of money at gambling, and must ""decay"" into the perfect agent for Iben Holst to turn for Wilhelm. Hoist falls in with Kapella, who is $11,000 in hock to a Chinese gambling boss, lends him money, then leads him into a blind alley of unrepayable debt. Meanwhile, Hoist's companion Marlene is living on a yacht in Puget Sound and hires young musician sailor Jay Becker to teach her how to handle her boat and possibly to win an upcoming yacht race. Slowly Becker sinks into the bottomless slot between the spy worlds, falls for Marlene and eventually finds himself killing Soviet heavies left and right to save her. Like a kaleidoscope, the colorful story shifts focus constantly, without much need to make sense until the final pages fall into place. An alternative escape to a night with the tube.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1986
Publisher: St. Martin's