This gripping and violent thriller follows American, Russian, and Israeli agents as they use their wits and weaponry in a worldwide fight over a defecting scientist in present-day Russia. A secret Russian program called "Black Diamond" is turning American agents into traitors and leading to the death of assets abroad. To counter this, the CIA sends crack agents Dave McClure and Tony Robertson to extract Dr. Armand Mishenkov, a physicist already attempting to make a solitary escape to the West. Russia dispatches its own team to catch Mishenkov, while Israelis are secretly protecting him. As each side becomes more desperate, the violence ratchets up.
Ceroni (Special Means)—who has a background in counterespionage and antiterrorism—is a master at crafting action scenes in all their bloody glory. In one fight, a "blow cracked across throat, his esophagus splintering" followed by "blood and torn flesh burst out in a red spray." Other scenes are more high-tech but no less visceral, as when a thermate grenade chars flesh and scorches lungs. A car chase is beautifully staged, and a setpiece involving a hungry bear is not for the squeamish, and although the emphasis is mostly on action rather than character a scene in which an agent takes personal revenge is genuinely chilling. A few plot twists strain credulity, but the story zips along so swiftly, it scarcely matters.
Ceroni works in calmer incidents between the hostilities well, adding depth to the action-packed storyline. Before departing Russia, Mishenkov shares a warm moment with Yakov, an elderly friend. Yakov's moving act of sacrifice creates an effective counterpoint to the violence. Even McClure and Robertson’s break to discuss a few Hungarian delicacies in the same lavish prose as action scenes is refreshing—still, in every case, there's another fight around the corner. Aficionados of red-blooded actioners will eagerly follow McClure and Robertson's adventures until the hair-raising denouement.
Takeaway: Fans of fast-moving spy thrillers with sumptuously choreographed violence will not pause until the last page.
Great for fans of: Ian Fleming, Len Deighton.
Production grades Cover: A- Design and typography: A- Illustrations: N/A Editing: B Marketing copy: B+
An elite CIA team must stop assassins from killing assets and agents in this novel.
In Ceroni’s fourth page-turner starring Dave McClure, two longtime Russian double agents working for the CIA meet grisly ends on foreign soil. These assets were not “in the black,” meaning they were not free of surveillance. Jack Barrett, the CIA director, brings in top agent McClure—who thinks “outside the box”—to help halt the loss of key double agents. But soon after McClure joins the team, death comes directly to Langley Center: John Freeman, one of the CIA’s own, tries to gun down Barrett. Freeman fails in his mission, but he does kill one co-worker and wounds another who attempts to save the big boss. Just before the shooting spree, Freeman became entranced by a black diamond pattern on his computer monitor. After the shooting, another agent—the “eye-catching” Katya Hubbard—also sees a hypnotic diamond pattern on her monitor. It’s revealed that the pattern’s “diamonds can, through their different, highlighted facets, manipulate a person’s subconscious mind” to commit evil. The plan is to scrub the entire agency for moles and damaging software, and agents are asked to identify any irreplaceable assets that need to be extracted from service. One name surfaces: Dr. Armand Mishenkov, the scientist leading Russia’s cold fusion research effort. Mishenkov wishes to defect; the United States wants to help him; and Russia intends to keep him: Cue the violence. Bloodshed fuels this exciting, deftly plotted nail-biter. Blood and/or brain matter sprays, drips, smears, spurts, oozes, slides, ejects, splatters, and pools in the international tale. Although usually a gun is used to do the damage, in a pinch, a shoe or even a toaster can be wielded. The author’s past career in espionage and counterespionage investigation lends a lot of credibility to the fast-paced story with a clever protagonist. The dialogue is serviceable but not inspiring.
A gripping, testosterone-laced spy thriller with a continent-jumping plot.