Note: This is a joint review by Jill and Jim.
This is the third book in a series involving John Knox and Grace Chu, both of whom do contract work for a private company “in the business of problem-solving those problems that can’t be solved by conventional means,” such as international kidnappings or blocking arms sales. In this case, neither John nor Grace are told who the client is, what the goal of their assignment is, or even who the villains are (which becomes very relevant since a whole slew of people are trying either to protect them or kill them, but they usually don’t know which is which). For separate reasons (John needs the money and Grace wants to advance in the profession), they both agree to take the job anyway, even though they will be operating largely in the dark. Nevertheless, in an inexplicably bizarre lapse of craftsmanship, the two decide to trust at least some of the people they encounter in Instanbul, where the “op” is scheduled to take place.
The “spy vs. spy” plot is complicated, and a lot of the dialogue is in a never-explained spy-type shorthand that adds to the opacity of the story. There are narrative hints of an attraction between John and Grace, but the only real heat comes from an encounter between John and a side character, Victoria, who is a sometime girlfriend of one of the “marks.”
Jill’s Evaluation: I kept waiting for things to become more clear, but for me they never did, and I also did not feel much engagement with either John or Grace. And while I can see that Pearson may have wanted the loyalties of various actors to be ambiguous to ratchet up the tension, it beggared believability that John and Grace would have been so lacking in suspicion. I have enjoyed some of Pearson’s other work, but I don’t think I will be returning to the Risk Agent series.
Jim’s Evaluation: I wasn’t as baffled by the spy-argot dialog as Jill was, perhaps because of my having read several of John Le Carre’s books. Moreover, the principal thrust of the plot was that the main players were kept uninformed about what they were doing, so it was perhaps intentional that the readers share in their perplexity. That said, the book certainly has its weaknesses. The writing never approaches Le Carre’s erudition. It was not always clear who was talking. Two of the rescue scenes are improbable beyond a reasonable suspension of belief. And John Knox suffers terrible injuries, but somehow recovers quickly enough to avoid getting killed. Less severe injuries would serve the plot just as well. Finally, in a scene in a public bath house, Knox wows the astounded Turks with the size of his private parts–totally gratuitous to the story line.
Jill and Jim’s Agreed-Upon Rating: 2.5/5
Note: Best product plug ever: Only a strong person could resist wanting to buy a Scottevest after reading this book. Pearson should be rewarded with free Scottevests for life.
Published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons, a member of the Penguin Group (USA), 2014