Wednesday, January 14, 2009

All The Queen's Men by Linda Howard ****

Wow! Another great, fast, thrilling suspense from Howard in her CIA series!

It's always fun to read about these incredible heroes, the special ops or, as they are called in this book, black ops - special training that makes them the most dangerous men, who can sneak up on anyone and kill them without a trace and without remorse, know all kinds of computer tricks, can break into any locked building or room, and are hot hot hot to boot!! Hmmmm do these men really exist?

We first met John Medina in the first book in the series, when his father (with similar experience) was killed doing an undercover job. John always stood in the shadows and rumor had it he killed his wife as part of a mission. As part of another mission, he worked with man-and-wife operatives Niema and Dallas Burdock in Iran - and Dallas was killed. He managed to get Niema out of the country, and had surreptitiously followed her life ever since.

Niema (somehow pronounced vaguely like Naomi as Nye-ema but I couldn't tell from the book if it was Nye eeeema or Nye Emma) worked in electronics for the CIA - she could build and rebuild radios, microphones, whatever was needed. She and Dallas were both adrenaline junkies, and she had convinced him to go on this op instead of a planned thrill-seeking vacation in Australia. So she spent 5 years trying to get over the survivor guilt as well as the grief of losing him.

John mentioned to the deputy director of operations Frank Vinay that he was interested in Niema, so Frank put them together in a job. Niema didn't want to take the job - she'd been a desk jockey for the CIA, almost as a penance, since Dallas's death. John convinced her she was the right woman for the job: All she had to do was get invited to Louis Ronsard's house party in the south of France. Ronsard was the middle guy for terrorists looking for materials and weapons, and John suspected he was involved in a recent airline bombing in the US. John and Niema needed to get into Ronsard's home and copy the files about the product used in the bombing. Niema also needed to plant something electronic - a new device she invented that was invisible to sweeps for bugs, and something she put together on the spot in his office.

There were fewer fleshed out characters in this tale than in the previous - the main focus was on Niema, John and Ronsard. But she managed to make Ronsard a three-dimensional and even complex and sympathetic guy whose motives were not purely evil - he had a young daughter with cystic fibrosis who needed at least a heart transplant to survive, and all his profits went to her health care. Well, and his extravagant lifestyle, but still Howard wrote him to be from a wealthy family with a thriving regular business before his daughter was born, so that lifestyle would have been the same.

Niema felt the attraction to John almost from the beginning, but John was an enigma to her - he was always so controlled that she thought it was business only for him, and the attraction he showed her was just part of the play-acting they did for Ronsard. Very James Bond-ish stuff here, and lots of action and excitement and tension too.

It was truly a page-turner - I read it all in one day. Since it's a series, it fits the Serial Reader's Challenge, but not the Winter or A to Z challenges - already have A in the titles and H in the authors! 4 stars.

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