COERCION by Tim Tigner

COERCION

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KIRKUS REVIEW

The turmoil of the Soviet Union’s last days under Gorbachev forms the setting for this entertaining thriller.

At the center of the baroque conspiracy driving the plot is Vasiliy Karpov, a cold-blooded but business-savvy KGB general with a grand scheme to position Russia for post-Communist dominance of the global economy by stealing cutting-edge technologies from America. His secret weapon is the Peitho pill, a poison capsule implanted in the buttocks of its unwitting victims and activated by remote control with a radio signal. Vasiliy has his smarmily sociopathic son Victor blackmail American researchers by implanting the pill in a few of their family members–one to kill in front of their eyes for demonstration purposes, the other as a permanent hostage to ensure ongoing participation in industrial espionage. When his aerospace-engineer brother turns up dead, private eye and ex-CIA agent Alex Ferris follows clues to Siberia–aptly rendered in dingy, late-Communist atmospherics–and finds himself entangled with Yarik, a massive KGB hit-man with a massive appetite for carnage, and Anna, a beautiful Russian doctor who is fending off Vasiliy’s advances. The byzantine conspiracy occasionally sags under its own weight, and makes the conspirators–who constantly spout Western business-speak about “core competencies,” etc.–look curiously obtuse regarding the realities of New Economy villainy. The technologies they pick to steal–improved airplane engines, photo-voltaic bricks, computer chips that were super-fast in 1990–seem innocuous; Vasiliy would have done better investing in a Silicon Valley venture capital firm. Fortunately, Tigner propels the narrative with vigorous prose and a succession of exciting set pieces in which Alex shows off his spy craft and special-ops lore as he infiltrates KGB bastions and battles Yarik across the trackless taiga. Alex deploys a nice balance of cool calculation and wing-and-a-prayer improvisation, and his ruthless adversaries retain a note of humanity.

Well-paced action, appealing characters and snappy writing compensate for a semi-preposterous plot.

Program: Kirkus Indie
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