On a quiet September afternoon, Colonel Vasily Petrov received a satchel and a pair of sealed envelopes from Moscow that contained a short, coded message: the satchel held three 9mm pistols, two submachine guns, and several spare magazines for each weapon. A year of planning and preparation had ended. It was time to commence “Operation Zero.” Outside the Russian Mission in New York former NYPD homicide detective John Corey is watching and waiting. As a contract agent for the Diplomatic Surveillance Group, his job is to follow the Russian. Corey is at turns disinterested, even cynical — at one point describing a job where “we all…take pictures of each other” — but flashes of his “detective instincts” break through the sardonic humor. His partner in this follow-up to The Panther is Tess Faraday, an aspiring FBI agent who drifts between bubbly and unsure of herself on this mission as they head for a beach house in the Hamptons.
The unmarked Mercedes carrying Petrov and his three comrades eventually reaches the home of a Russian “zillionaire” with Corey and his team close behind; their “non-discreet surveillance” mission means watching an all-day house party and keeping tabs on the noticeably blase Russian Colonel. By the time this mismatched pair leave Georgi Tamorov’s sea-side estate via public beach access path Corey is suspicious and the former Wall Street lawyer at his side doesn’t seem so innocent. After a quick stop at a nearby diner and a short exchange the pair make their way to the Shinnecock Indian reservation for a powwow with an “old Cold Warrior” colleague who delivers a tall tale featuring an offhand reference to Einstein’s Nassau Point Letter and what could be a paranoid analysis of Petrov’s intentions.
The story’s focus shifts to the Russian group as they link up with an unsuspecting partner, and the objective of “Operation Zero” is brought to light. Petrov is the center of attention, but in a way Nelson DeMille may not have intended. The villain of Radiant Angel is not an over-the-top, charismatic schemer worthy of a James Bond flick; if he were that would ruin the story. Petrov is single-minded, almost fanatically intent on completing his mission, but something is missing. As officers with the Russian intelligence service, it’s expected that Petrov and his henchman would go about liquidating the passengers and crew of a 200-foot yacht with a bureaucrat’s indifference. But after The Hana takes on a Russian captain and dissention breaks out among the New York-bound conspirators Petrov’s motives, which involve a step up the SVR flow chart, become increasingly unconvincing.
At a loss to explain how the Russians eluded him, Corey returned to their last known location. Police are on-scene and about to take control of the investigation, which could leave the four DSG agents on the sidelines. Corey takes advantage of the confusion to put himself in charge, then questions Petrov’s driver and the home’s owner. The limits of his authority start catching up with the contract snoop when Corey’s boss starts calling, the police Captain he is working with won’t allow the detective on a speedboat to continue his pursuit, and Ms. Faraday asked why he’s still chasing the Russian when his part in the case is essentially over. It’s unclear why an ex-cop is working so hard chasing a subject he described as a “dip” at one point — the six books in DeMille’s series that preceded this one may have helped — but the Garden City author seemingly drew up this pair as shadowy reflections of each other.
Now that all the pieces are in place, the final chase to New York Harbor takes off and though momentum changes hands, time seems to be on Petrov’s side. The inevitable confrontation is a bit of a mixed bag; there are stretches where it is dramatic without going cinematic, and others where it has a touch of Hollywood pizazz worthy of Die Hard. There was something curious about this thriller’s references to a Russia governed by “Putin and his goons” and the “almost existential” threat it represents. They’re sprinkled throughout DeMille’s novel as though he had a larger point to make, something he confirmed in an interview posted on Blackfive.net. This novel is topical without preaching about the story that is dominating American politics, a fast-paced, engaging, and occasionally prescient work worthy of any Tom Clancy fan’s time.
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