2017-10-12 / Top News


Terror thriller balances momentum, restraint

¦ “Assassin’s Code” by Ward Larsen. Forge Books. 368 pages. Hardcover $25.99. ¦ “Assassin’s Code” by Ward Larsen. Forge Books. 368 pages. Hardcover $25.99. The fourth David Slaton novel keeps Ward Larsen on top of the spy thriller mountain. While it works well as a standalone novel, readers who know the series will gain even more from their longer exposure to Slayton’s character, skills and past. As ever, the precision with which the author details Slaton’s planning and execution of his assignment is totally engaging. However, the handling of brilliant tradecraft is only part of the book’s appeal. Mr. Larsen’s plot develops from a powerful premise that echoes present day realities — and perhaps anticipates the future.

Europe, and particularly France, is fighting what seems to be an end-of-days war against ISIS. Retired (except when on call to top level Mossad missions) operative and assassin David Slaton discovers a strange message that that seems to have been left for him alone. A computer memory stick holds a photo of a man named Zavier Baland, the fast-rising Frenchman slated to take over DGSI, his nation’s premier counterterrorist agency.

LARSEN LARSEN The photo shocks Slayton, who recognizes the person as Ali Samir, an Islamic terrorist whom Slayton murdered 15 years back. Or did he? Who is responsible for leaving this clue for Slayton? What should he do about it?

If Samir survived to reinvent himself as Baland, is France about to install an ISIS secret agent as its bulwark against terrorism? Could anything be more dangerous for the French Republic? Can Baland be exposed and/or stopped?

The plot is revealed through the alternating perspectives of several key players. Principal among these is Slayton, whose domestic life is portrayed as the antithesis of his murderous, if patriotic, occupation. His concern for his wife and child are consistently at war with his concern for Israel, Israel’s allies and humanistic values.

Mr. Larsen enters Baland’s mind and probes deeper and deeper into Baland’s sense of self: his core identity and values. Like Slayton, he is a compromised family man. Readers are privy to the decisions Baland is formulating as the time of great crisis for France and for the West approach. The increasing frequency and violence of terrorist acts may or may not be his agenda.

Mr. Larsen provides facts and perspectives through the presentation of two additional characters. One is a rather mysterious young woman, Malika, a terrorist operative of great skill and determination. She is a master of disguises and subterfuge. She is an expert marksman. Like Slaton, she is totally professional in choosing the best vantage points from which to gather information while keeping hidden, the best vantage points for firing her weapons. She is great at mind games.

For instance, In the aftermath of an attack seemingly meant to assassinate him, Slaton discovers a flash drive with a plastic case on which his name appears. He is not an anonymous stonemason any longer. This is the flash drive with the photo of Baland. If it is Baland.

The fourth key character is Aziz Uday. Still a young man, Uday has become the would-be caliphate’s information technology mastermind. However, he has become somewhat disillusioned with the excesses of ISIS. He and other ISIS opera t ives are run by

Malika. Uday is commanded to finish work on an extensive database that will enable an enormous, last-ditch effort against

France aimed at restoring

ISIS’s credibility as its resources crumble.

Moving in and out of the minds of this quartet, as well as the thoughts of several other characters, Ward Larsen slowly and deliberately reveals the information and the speculations that allow readers to tentatively piece together the shadowy puzzle of identities and motives coming into focus.

“Assassin’s Code” is a dazzling exercise in balancing momentum and restraint, passion and cool-headedness, revelation and reticence. Its settings are marvelously drawn, and its mainspring is wound up tight.

About the author

Ward Larsen is a USA Today bestselling author, and four-time winner of the Florida Book Award. His first thriller, “The Perfect Assassin,” is currently being adapted into a major motion picture by Amber Entertainment and SND/ M6 Films. He has also been nominated for the Macavity Award. A former U.S. Air Force fighter pilot, Mr. Larsen flew 22 missions in Operation Desert Storm. He has served as a federal law enforcement officer, airline captain and is a trained aircraft accident investigator. He lives in Sarasota. ¦

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