New York attorney Stone Barrington dabbles once more in international intrigue, unaware that he’s out way past his depth.
President William Henry Lee IV suspects that Teddy Fay, durable CIA agent turned vigilante political assassin, is alive and well on the Caribbean island of St. Marks. And Lee ought to know, since his wife Kate (Iron Orchid, 2005, etc.) is director of the CIA. The first couple plan to send CIA operative Holly Barker into the breach once more, with an eligible man accompanying her so that she won’t stick out like a sore spinster. Enter Stone, who arrives with Holly in St. Marks to find the familiar cast from his last visit (Dead in the Water, 1997) poised to go through their limited repertory once again. Thanks to a series of ham-handed cutaways to Teddy’s point of view, we see that he is indeed hiding on St. Marks with his ex-CIA inamorata, Irene Foster, but we’re not privy to his cover identity or his new plan. While Stone and his excruciatingly familiar cohorts tangle with Col. Croydon Croft, the bullyboy enforcer of St. Marks, fresh rounds of agency infighting back home spawn a series of sharply contradictory mandates about what to do next. In the hands of John le Carré, these mixed messages would produce a sense of delicate comedy or ironic disillusionment; with Woods at the helm, the effect is a muddled version of Who’s On First. The fadeout finds Stone sexually satisfied and Teddy at large once more, leaving the author free to publish another version of this greyhound chase with an equally inconsequential endgame whenever he’s so inclined.
Despite stiff competition, this meandering Caribbean idyll is the most relentlessly unoriginal of all Stone’s adventures. Other crimebusters live on in movies; maybe Stone will get a sitcom.