A legal thriller that thrusts a garden-variety attorney into the world of Argentinian organized crime.
Dennis Brunt is a low-ranking tax lawyer at his firm, so he’s surprised when he’s pulled into a major case and given a central role in it. It turns out that Gerhard Schmidt, a shady figure from the criminal underworld who’s under investigation for illegal arms trading, drug trafficking, and money laundering, personally asked for his involvement. It’s a peculiar request, as Brunt hasn’t been around long enough to make a name for himself. The attorney soon learns that both he and Schmidt are Argentinian; Brunt was sent away by his mother to the United States 30 years earlier, and he never returned or saw his mother again. Now he’s compelled to fly back to Argentina to learn about Schmidt’s business, and his client locates Brunt’s mother and orchestrates an emotional reunion. Meanwhile, the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, Brian Hannigan, doggedly pursues Schmidt’s prosecution, which sets Brunt in his cross hairs. In a subplot, Brunt starts to fall for an FBI agent who’s covertly investigating him, and their relationship becomes ever more complex as the connection between Brunt and Schmidt comes into sharper focus. Debut author Mankus, like his protagonist, is an attorney, so he writes with professional confidence and expertise. But although this is a brief novella, it’s overly crammed with parallel plotlines, and, as a result, it only fully develops Brunt’s character. More than just a legal thriller, this is also a complex family drama and a love story, and these latter narrative lines sometimes seem to extend beyond Mankus’ comfort zone as a writer. For example, when Brunt meets his estranged brother for the first time, he delivers this wooden line: “ ‘You’re my long-lost brother,’ Dennis said, ‘and I missed you very much.’ ” However, the author is adept at vividly depicting violent action, and the story’s pace is entertainingly relentless. There’s no shortage of unexpected twists, too, which will keep readers hungry for the next page.
This brief adventure’s power comes more from its mystery than its characterization.