An American government–sanctioned black-ops group goes undercover to kill a Russian crime boss in this fourth installment of a thriller series.
Maggie Murano’s latest mission for Alpha Team is to assassinate Russian Valdev Belevich. He’s guilty of such atrocities as arms dealing and human trafficking. But Maggie has personal reasons to want him dead; Belevich put a hit on her a couple of years ago and has ties to her husband’s murder. Maggie’s adoptive father, Shep, who runs the Virginia-based black-ops group, appoints her the head of this operation. She plans to go undercover at El Palacio, the Spanish resort and casino where Belevich vacations annually. She’ll pose as Belevich’s concierge, which should put her close enough to him to complete the mission in under a week. But as with any assignment, obstacles are inevitable. For starters, the four-person Alpha Team includes Maggie’s estranged boyfriend, Mark Hicks. He’s not exactly professional, trying to discuss their relationship while undercover and showing he’s clearly not keen on Maggie running point. And while the team gets help from the casino manager, a former MI6 agent, he’s not someone either Maggie or Shep fully trusts. Complicating matters even further is Raul Perez, El Palacio’s owner and the head of a Spanish crime family. He has a known feud with Belevich, who may be responsible for Perez’s son’s fatal shooting. These two powerful enemies, with a crooked agent or two in the mix, will make it even harder for Maggie to finish the job and escape Spain with everything and everyone intact. Condon generates a tense story that keeps moving. Alpha Team, for example, gets its assignment early on, and Maggie quickly pieces together a plan. But the narrative skimps on too many details. Consequently, the team sometimes does things too easily, such as Shep and Maggie suspecting government agents’ treachery and verifying it by merely perusing the dark web. The lack of particulars carries over to the story’s descriptions as well. In the case of Perez, his first appearance is underwhelming, as he’s nothing more than a “well-dressed Spaniard in his mid-fifties.” On the other hand, chic and realistic tech boosts the story’s vivid espionage activities. Maggie dons contact lenses equipped with a “microscopic camera” while Alpha Team uses cellophane-thin, supposedly undetectable bugs. As the hero, Maggie is wonderfully complex. While she’s definitely capable as a mission leader, she’s also the mother of two young children waiting for her in Virginia. At the same time, she suffers migraines, and her resolve to avoid Xanax while on assignment intensifies her struggles with anxiety. Most of the supporting characters are less intriguing, as cocaine-sniffing Belevich is indisputably villainous, and even Mark comes across as petulant and not focused on the mission. The final act takes a bit of a turn, as Alpha Team finds itself up against a few new baddies. But the author offers a solid ending that, despite the inclusion of a memory-erasing drug that readers may find unconvincing, features plenty of action, shocks, and the possibility of another series installment.
A terrific protagonist headlines this uneven but frequently entertaining espionage tale. (dedication)