cover image Liar’s Candle

Liar’s Candle

August Thomas. Scribner, $25 (320p) ISBN 978-1-5011-7284-7

Thomas’s competent first novel opens in Ankara, Turkey, where Penny Kessler, a 21-year-old American intern at the U.S. embassy, lies unconscious in a hospital room, the victim of a terrorist bomb at a Fourth of July picnic. An image of her in a blood-stained dress, draped in an American flag, has made her a media sensation. Frank Lerman, a senior State Department official, wants to question her about her activities and her relationship with Zachary Robson, another American, who mysteriously disappeared after the explosion. In an unlikely twist, Turkey’s prime minister insists on taking Penny, once she regains consciousness, out of the hospital to the presidential palace to continue her recovery. The plot devolves into a James Bond–style thriller, with Penny trying to connect with Robson as she becomes a pawn in a high-stakes, strategic game of diplomacy (and treachery). For a young summer intern, she proves surprisingly resourceful. The cinematic action sweeps the reader along, and a strong sense of place makes up for the sometimes leaden exposition. Agent: Piers Blofeld, Sheil Land Assoc. (U.K.). (Apr.)