You see him in a trenchcoat on TV credit-card ads, going about on the Orient Express, searching for a stolen piezoelectric oscillator on whose return the fate of the Free World hangs. A paranoid veiled as an international thriller writer, he sports a ten-gigabyte Toshiba laptop, but hides a dismantled Heckler and Koch MP-10 submachine gun under his coat and straps a hooked and serrated Verenski blade from Bulgaria to his shin. His high-security HQ is a bulletproof glass house in Florida from which he goes forth by darkness, bearded and speaking 17 languages with amazing fluency. He often writes in a dread digital code of double !! and triple !!! exclams, although a new female collaborator has led him into a more fearfully insecure binary code disguised as the English language (ex.: "The driving rain was unrelenting, whipped into a frenzy by howling winds, and the waves surged and crashed against the coast, a maelstrom in the black night"). He was last seen at 3:22 A.M. off a rain-beaten coast near Carthage, Tunisia, zooming away from a battered and decrepit 5,000-ton Russian-built break-bulk freighter, in a rigid-hulled inflatable black night-crawler with powerful outboard motors.
!!!'s latest fact-bulging chest of spycraft finds him struggling in a straitjacket of reasonable prose - reasonable if measured against the paranoia bursting from his dazzlingly senseless, pell-mell intrigue and the faceless but gasping and strangling characters of his shamelessly dumb The Bourne Identity (1980), or the tiring murk and bounds of human untruths of The Parsifal Mosaic (1982), to speak well of these two works. His last ultimatum, this year's The Hades Factor (p. 501), found collaborator Gayle Lynds keeping iron control on !!!'s urge to italicize and hurl plastique everywhichway in his rage to plot.
In worldly-wise passages echoing le Carré and Graham Greene, !!! now threatens to bushwhack critics in The Prometheus Deception (St. Martin's; $27.95; Oct. 31; 384 pp.; 0-312-25346-X). Burnt-out Nick Bryson, top agent of the Directorate, a shrouded, extralegal, evil US security agency, is put out to pasture. His wife, a fellow spook at the agency, has left him and vanished. But after five peaceful years teaching at a Pennsylvania college, his past explodes and he's on the run. As is !!!, now varying high-tech violence with Big Thoughts. What is Prometheus? An all-seeing group of masters of surveillance intent on bettering the world - and smashing devils like the Directorate. Its final planetary paranoia seeks a biosphere of universal eavesdropping via chip implants - and !!!'s lust for stature gives birth to his best thriller yet!!!