Larew has found a comfort zone in describing exotic settings, and her perspicacity for honing in on minute details gives her work a sense of authenticity. Through the eyes of her intrepid, intelligent heroine, we are treated to an insider’s view of locales like Dubai and Istanbul.
In this second Lee Carruthers offering (The Spider Catchers provided the opening salvo), author Marilynn Larew again displays her prodigious knowledge of the international dealings in diamonds, deception and death that are hidden from the headlines.
Employing her wry wit (“I disapprove of assassination, particularly my own”), Carruthers, a woman of a certain age (“my long brown hair had a few strands of silver”) is looking for a dead man. After quitting the CIA and vowing she wouldn’t go to Dubai to look for CIA operative George Branson, she is inveigled into doing just that by the appeals of Branson’s wife Cynthia, and possibly equally, by the little brass key that Cynthia gives her. Figuring out what that key unlocks will consume Carruthers; finding out why Cynthia plunges off a balcony to her death, and others will die while the hunt is on, will provoke far more troubling questions.
Carruthers, a sort of female Bond, can identify a person’s borough of origin by his accent, and tell whether a man is an American or English by the way he takes his whiskey—with or without ice. She knows where to get the best pastry, what wine to order, and in which Islamic enclave she can walk around without a head covering. She bribes passport control agents and befriends charming crooks. And she’s tough, always carrying a Glock, with a knife in a sheath on her leg. She goes through several weapons in the course of this story, and uses a particular firearm to good effect occasioning one of the book’s better zingers: “Tears came to my eyes but they didn’t spoil my aim.”
Carruthers is a person of principle, so when she gets caught up in a spy vs. spy morass, she keeps her own counsel and tries to do the right thing, though with the CIA and the Russian mafiya trying to outfox each other, she knows she may be seen as expendable. In the end, she has her ethics intact, a small bag of rough diamonds as compensation for her troubles, and some disturbing conclusions about who George Branson was, or is?—and who’s playing footsy with whom under the big table.
In an age when national, ethnic and political identities and loyalties have blurred the lens of spy-craft, Larew’s heroine is right up to speed. And if the story line seems at times to move too fast and somewhat jerkily, it’s also true that there are few if any lulls in the action. Still, some readers may find the wrap-up final chapter rather mechanical, and may wonder why Carruthers, who keeps protesting that she quit the CIA in order not to be sent on dangerous assignments, hops on board for another missing-person case on the last page. But lucky for Larew’s readers that Carruthers accepts the assignments despite her better judgement.
A sequel seems to be brewing that may perhaps reveal a softer side of Lee Carruthers. In this story there is a hint, but just: someone named Kemel, and a bloodstained pearl.
Larew has built up steam with her fascinating femme-sometimes-fatale protagonist and her writer’s grip on the subtleties of international intrigue and double crossings that ratchets up the race against time in this spy vs. spy thriller.