John R. Maxim, . . Morrow, $24.95 (400pp) ISBN 978-0-06-000584-9

Travelers to Westport, Conn., should keep an eye open for unusual characters. That distinguished old gent who runs an antique shop? He's an ex-KGB colonel. That red-haired woman whose bookstore sells a lot of Harry Potters? She's a professional killer who likes to blow up trucks and planes. And the owners of a popular restaurant, a quaint bed-and-breakfast, a home security firm? They're all former assassins for the U.S. government, possessed of various violent skills that they're ready to exercise once again if their boss, Paul Bannerman—who runs a travel agency on the Boston Post Road—gives the word. We encounter them all again as thriller veteran Maxim takes up his successful series where Bannerman's Promise left off. Artemus Bourne, who puts the "arch" in "arch villain," is straight out of Ian Fleming—a fabulously wealthy and powerful smuggler, currently involved in the dirty African diamond business, who can't seem to hire good help. Bourne wants revenge on an Angolan rebel, Alameo, who messily beheaded three of Bourne's aides. Bourne knows that Alameo is really a former East German (and Bannerman colleague) named Martin Kessler, long believed to be dead. To trap Kessler, Bourne needs Kessler's lover, Elizabeth Stride, a legendary assassin called the Black Angel. Stride is also supposed to be dead, but in fact she's another of Bannerman's "ghosts" in retirement in Westport—and Bannerman may have to marshal some of his own deadly skills to protect her. The entertaining—if somewhat ludicrous—plot involves a good deal of hokum, blarney and old-fashioned excitement. Maxim's fans are in for more fun. (Mar.)