Choppy thriller about a man who isn’t sure he ever was.
A private eye living over a Chinese restaurant in Brooklyn, Martin Odum has led at least two other lives under different names, or “legends”—in identities the CIA created for him. Is he really these other men? Or is he bored Martin? A sinking feeling sets in as a character advises Martin, spelling out the obvious, that “all men and some women live with an assortment of legends that blur at the edges when they overlap.” Waiting for the real Martin Odum to stand up, the confused operative receives a woman who entreats him to find Samat Ugor-Zhilov, a man who married and then abandoned her sister—the latter’s Orthodox Jewish faith requiring that she be in her husband’s presence when she divorces him. Despite warnings to refuse the case from a CIA director who looks like Fred Astaire, Odum combs Prague, London and a small village in Russia in search of Samat. Gathering pieces of Samat’s identity, Odum realizes that the fugitive’s misdeeds far exceed abandoning his spouse: both the Chechens and the CIA want to take him out for certain of his actions as Russia turned to democracy. Besides following Odum, best-selling Littell (The Company, 2001, etc.) also attends to the lives of Odum’s alter egos: IRA bomb expert Dante Pippen, who shows terrorists how to plant bombs inside the carcass of a dead dog; and Civil War scholar Lincoln Dittmann, who crosses paths with a tall Saudi known as Osama bin Laden. A psychiatrist occasionally appears as well to help Odum repair the shattered life of a spy.
Littell’s sharp images, breathless chases and nasty double-crossers please as ever, but the splintered narrative suffers from a central identity crisis that blurs the focus and slows the pace.