Saint's Rest

Thomas Gifford, Author
Thomas Gifford, Author Bantam Books $22.95 (0p) ISBN 978-0-553-10134-8
Mass Market Paperbound - 432 pages - 978-0-553-57226-1
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Is Gifford, one of the most robust and intelligent thriller writers of the past two decades, running out of ideas? Counting this new novel, two of his last three books have recycled elements from his earlier works. The First Sacrifice (1994) was a sequel to his debut, The Wind Chill Factor, while here he brings back Ben Driskill, hero of his last major bestseller, The Assassini (1990). Despite generating substantial tension, moreover, this near-future yarn is driven by a turgid political conspiracy: a group of right-wingers seeks to remove President Charles Bonner after he threatens to dismantle the intelligence agencies that supposedly run the country from behind the scenes. The action starts with the mysterious death of Drew Summerhays, an elderly, prominent friend of the President. For advice, Bonner turns to Driskill, a lawyer with Summerhays's firm, who is quickly drawn into the murder investigation. Evidence points to the small town of Saints Rest, Iowa, where Driskill connects the murder to two other killings, indicating a conspiracy to sabotage Bonner's reelection campaign. Peeling away layers of duplicity, Driskill finally reveals the man he thinks is behind the plot, but another death takes that suspect off the hook and leads to a dramatic finale on the floor of the Democratic Convention in Chicago. Gifford keeps the action moving through hard-driving narration, but the excitement of the climax is undermined by his tendency to magnify each minor revelation as if political Armageddon were imminent. Equally dismaying is the lack of inventiveness in his post-Watergate tricks, save for a doomsday weapon that can replicate a natural disaster with the push of a button. As usual, Gifford tells a compelling tale, but in this one he's writing below his peak. (Sept.)
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