cover image DECEPTION


John Altman, Author . Putnam $24.95 (272p) ISBN 978-0-399-15040-1

In his first two well-received thrillers, A Gathering of Spies and A Game of Spies, Altman used familiar backgrounds from WWII fiction in imaginative ways. He does the same good service in his latest, an exciting and moving adventure set in the present but owing much to the moral quandaries explored by past masters such as Eric Ambler and John le Carré. Hannah Gray is a classic Ambler character—a woman fleeing one set of troubles and getting caught up in another. Gray discovers that her lover and business partner in a Chicago medical research firm has been pulling off massive medicare fraud without her knowledge. Instead of immediately blowing the whistle, Gray takes a last-minute offer from a friend to go on a cruise from Venice to the Greek Isles, a chance to lie low and think about her options. On board, Gray befriends an elderly couple, Renee and Steven Epstein. Unbeknownst to Gray, Steven is a scientist working for a top-secret U.S. government agency, and is having second thoughts about his major breakthrough on a new energy source with devastating weapons possibilities. The head of the agency, Keyes (who goes by only one name), sends a pair of agents—including one who suffers from a medical condition that lets him pass for a 13-year-old boy—to kill Steven and Renee and recover any records of the breakthrough. Renee innocently gives Gray a guidebook in which Steven had written down the energy formula, and soon Gray is ankle-deep in death and deception in exotic locales. Altman humanizes all this contrivance with many beautifully drawn characters, especially the distraught but resourceful Gray and the terminally overwrought Keyes, already weakened by the death of a young son some years before. (May)