It’s not everyday a prime example of publishing practice and authorial obsession drops into my lap. Maybe it’s just Long Island luck.
Our author is an old friend, reared in the same town as me. Nelson DeMille‘s books are my guilty pleasure and the most pleasurable ones are set on Long Island. Only a native can truly enjoy the nuances that must go whizzing past readers on the nearby continent.
Once again our hero is John Corey. We’ve met him before, the former NYPD detective who earned a disability pension when he was shot on the job and has since been working with the Feds. There’s actually a half-joke buried in that situation. As my lifetime civil servant dad would have put it, he’s double dipping.
After appearing in five or six novels Corey has achieved Spenserdom. That’s my term for a character with a strong enough following to warrant a call out on the cover. I first saw it after Robert B. Parker began publishing titles with heroes other than Spenser, the character on which he built his career. “A JOHN COREY novel” the cover of this book states, as if DeMille outsourced the writing to someone else.
I must have missed a volume because Corey, who has always been associated with the Anti-Terrorism Task Force, now works in the Diplomatic Surveillance Group. His team’s assignment, on a sleepy Sunday that just happens to be September 11, is to keep track of Vasily Patrov a nasty piece of work who is officially Russia‘s UN human rights representative.
In reality Patrov is an SVR (that’s the successor to the KGB) operative. We’re in on the plot from page one so we know he’s up to no good, but at the outset Corey thinks Vasily might be off to Brighton Beach to see a girlfriend. That quickly proves mistaken as Patrov’s car heads east and keeps going, well past the zone of unfettered travel privileges.
Where he’s headed is the Hamptons, more specifically Southampton, smack in the middle of the 50 or so mile swath of South Shore that falls under that designation. There, a Russian oligarch is hosting a party at which his friends and business relations drink too much and play with, ahem, professional ladies brought in for the occasion.
We see all this because Corey, out of either boredom or Spidey sense, thinks Patrov must be up to no good. So, along with his sidekick, he insinuates himself into the staff of the caterers arriving to work the party.
Corey always has a sidekick. For many volumes it was his wife, Kate Mayfield. Corey is still married to Kate, who, as a career FBI agent, brings the cop-fibbie tension into their marriage, but she is absent from this tale, appearing only in texts and emails.
This time, he’s paired with Tess Faraday, a trainee and aspiring FBI agent, who’s requested to work with him. Like Patrov, Tess turns out to be something different from what she’s purported to be. And while she serves as a bit of a brake on Corey, it’s almost non-existent compared to what we’ve seen in the past.
In some ways, the story demands that because it takes place within an 18-hour window (five days if you allow for the three unseen days between page one and Corey’s arrival less than ten pages later). That timeframe is both a blessing and a curse.
On the one hand, everything rollicks along, and the book is blessedly short. On the other, the action dictates events that test the limits of plausibility. But, hey, it’s a tall tale, not a police report.
Patrov, who along with two sidekicks of his own is not carousing, leaves the party early, accompanied by 12 of the girls. They depart by amphibious craft and rendezvous with a mega-yacht outside the 12-mile limit. Here’s where we encounter the author’s obsession in full.
The yacht is met by a another tender, originating from a Russian trawler, containing a suitcase nuke. It wasn’t so long ago that we saw the Coreys racing around the Adirondacks as if it was Nassau County trying to stop a psychotic CEO/madman from starting a limited nuclear version of World War III.
I suppose that living downwind of what is the most tempting target on the planet, as DeMille does, exerts a toll. I’ll be fair. Since September 11, 2001 all of us who live in these parts have had to live in a more or less constant state of denial. I read these books out of sequence but two nukes in a year is still a bit much.
As I tend to do with these plot driven books, I’m not going to give away any of the details. The pace is brisk so you won’t be bogged down in anything that stands in the way of your fun. That alone is an improvement over the odd , Trilateral Commission meets Deep State conspiracy nonsense that chewed up 100 plus page of the last book.
I will say, though, that like DeMille–okay, like Buck Harris, Tess Faraday’s boss and someone Corey’s encountered before–I think we’ve ignored Putin‘s Russia. Whatever the reasons the current administration has for continuing that course, it puts the entire country at risk.
I’ve long thought the nation’s intelligence services would benefit from a day or so spent talking to a screenwriter or two or an author like DeMille. Government does not generally create an environment that rewards imaginative thinking, so importing it is almost a requirement.
After all, what seems far-fetched today might just turn out to be happening tomorrow.