THE SECRET AGENT
Mathews, writing as Stephanie Barron, has had considerable success splicing mystery plots with the real-life story of novelist Jane Austen. Now she takes another true story, that of a legendary American spy and silk merchant named Jim Thompson, and tries—with somewhat less success but lots of old-fashioned panache—to turn it into adventure fiction. Like Thompson, her protagonist, Jack Roderick, worked for the OSS (and its successor, the CIA) in Bangkok from 1945 until he disappeared in Malaysia in 1967. Unlike Thompson, Roderick had a son, Rory, who was killed in Vietnam, and a grandson, Max, who becomes an Olympic ski champion. It's Max who starts the narrative engine here when he tries to pressure the Thai government to turn his grandfather's fabulous house in Bangkok over to him. Soon, Max is one step ahead of a murderous plot that leads him to call on the services of a risk management expert called Oliver Krane. Krane in turn persuades Stefani Fogg—an attractive, deceptively fragile financial expert with a checkered past—to help Max in his quest. If this all sounds complicated and confusing, it is—especially since Mathews interrupts her present-day story (which zooms from the Scottish Highlands to the French Alps and then to Vietnam and Bangkok) with constant flashbacks to Jack Roderick's adventures and Rory's Vietnam saga. It's easy to see why Mathews, who worked for the CIA herself as an analyst, became fascinated with Thompson and Bangkok, but even her strong narrative skills (and superb action set pieces involving natural disasters like a typhoon and an avalanche) are hard-pressed to keep this jerky train on its tracks. Author tour. (June 25)
Forecast:Mathews's first thriller, The Cutout, has been optioned by Warner Bros., which could augur well for sales down the line.