Stephen Coonts, Author . St. Martin's $25.95 (383p) ISBN 978-0-312-28362-9

Readers accustomed to having series hero Jake Grafton save the world every year (Liberty ; Cuba ; etc.) may be disappointed to learn he's retired—but they won't fret for long. Former Grafton sidekick Tommy Carmellini, ex-burglar and CIA operative, has been promoted to star in what's sure to be another excellent, long-lived series. Tommy is hanging out with partner Willie the Wire when ex-girlfriend Dorsey O'Shea turns up asking favors: will Tommy break into a house and retrieve some sex tapes in which she has unwittingly participated? No problem—he hands the tapes over and dismisses Dorsey from his mind. Several months later, the CIA sends him to a West Virginia safe house where Russian defector Mikhail Goncharov is being debriefed—and there, Tommy stumbles into a full-blown massacre. He kills a couple of attackers, rescues a woman, beats a retreat and quickly finds himself in spy hell: out in the cold, accused, alone, hunted by friend and foe alike. As the plot snowballs, it accumulates characters both good and bad: Goncharov has escaped the safe house but has amnesia; Dorsey returns; deadly assassins try to kill Tommy; and evil politicians scheme. (One of them, a woman, is determined to become president of the United States, no matter what: "Give me four years to line up support and be seen by the public and I could beat Jesus Christ in the next election.") Tommy is smart, brave, skilled and possessed of enough self-deprecating, wisecracking wit to endear him to readers. Jake Grafton makes an appearance to help save the day, but Tommy proves himself more than capable of saving the world on his own. (On sale May 11)

Forecast: All the proven Coonts elements are still solidly in place. After initial misgivings, readers of the Jake Grafton series will easily make the leap to Tommy Carmellini, and new readers can be expected to sign up for this hipper hero. Seven-city author tour .

Reviewed on: 03/08/2004
Release date: 05/01/2004
Genre: Fiction
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