The Spy Who Came For Christmas by David Morrell (Spy/Thriller, 2008).
I started reading this on Christmas Eve (which is when its set, matter of fact). Morrell is, of course, one of our best and most respected action/thriller writers (the man who gave us Rambo, among others, and a three-time winner of the Bram Stoker Award, too). Suffice it to say, he knows what he’s doing and shows it, yet again, here.
He opens this one up mysteriously, as a wounded man tries to lose himself (and whatever he’s hiding inside his jacket) in a crowd of Christmas celebrants on the streets of Santa Fe, New Mexico. He’s being pursued by a nasty crew of high-tech thugs (equipped with ear-piece radios and telltale Russian accents) that he’s just betrayed.
Meanwhile nearby, a drunken local just beat up his wife, scared the hell out of their handicapped kid and stormed out of their house and into the snowy night.
While Morrell maintains suspense, revealing necessary details only bit by bit, you just know which place the wounded spy (whose backstory is also expertly revealed, bit by bit, in flashback scenes) will choose as a desperate refuge for himself and his precious cargo. It’s called foreshadowing, folks–and there’s not a thing wrong with it.
It’s also predictable that the bad-guys will eventually locate Kagan (the spy/undercover agent in question), but only after he’s won the confidence of the battered woman and her brave little boy. A near-epic standoff ensues, with the added complication of the remorseful drunk returning to find these creepy characters lurking outside. The leading thug (who considered Kagan his one true friend, as well as a fellow member of the Russian mafia) is actually smart and somewhat conflicted, if ruthless. He tries to trick the husband into helping them and nearly succeeds.
I won’t reveal what Kagan has stolen, but suffice it to say that it concerns middle eastern politics and it may be a key to peacemaking efforts that the mafia guys have been hired to sabotage. Again, I resist spoiling things–but I must admit the one (slight) weakness I see in this crisply written book is that the potential solution for the seemingly endless Palestinian/Israeli conflict that Morrell presents here strikes me as simplistic, if heartfelt (and subtly resonant to the season).
In any case, this swift-moving novel builds to an exciting finish, replete with startling and vivid action (i.e. violence) and a satisfying final twist at the end.
Not your standard Christmas story, but a good one.