Longtime FBI agent Puller Monk carries more personal baggage than an Amtrak train in this convincing thriller from debut novelist Riehl. Monk is the director of the SPIN (Special Inquiries) Squad, tasked with completing an exhaustive background check on Judge Brenda Thompson, the first African-American woman nominated to the Supreme Court. Monk is also shouldering a serious gambling addiction, a girlfriend who's a drunk and an Alzheimer's-addled father he detests. Monk's tyrannical FBI boss, Kevin Finnerty, last of the old Hoover disciples, wants the Thomson report on his desk ASAP, but there's a problem. Special Agent Lisa Sands has uncovered a lie on Judge Thompson's SF-86, the personal security questionnaire submitted by all nominees. Monk's immediate impulse is to turn to gambling, but Sands convinces him to investigate the judge's lie. They are quickly drawn into a complicated conspiracy that threatens their lives, results in three murders and leads to treachery in the uppermost levels of the bureau. Car chases, beatings and gun battles ensue. Meanwhile, the nursing home that takes care of Monk's father is threatening to kick the old man out unless Monk pays his overdue bill. His solution? Place a few bets, which he invariably loses. Riehl writes a lean, vigorous prose laced with self-deprecating humor, and as an ex-FBI man he fuels his story with fascinating insider details. He's a little weak in the romance department, but readers will skim those sections, racing ahead to the next example of agent expertise. And since the conclusion finds Monk with most of his personal problems perishing, a sequel looks likely. (Aug.)
Forecast:Riehl's flawed but determined G-man should shake some of the rust off the FBI thriller genre. Readers will be clamoring for more from Agent Puller Monk.
Release date: 08/01/2003