cover image Marimba

Marimba

Richard Hoyt, Author Tor Books $19.95 (279p) ISBN 978-0-312-85193-4

Assigned to ferret out corruption among U.S. undercover forces in the drug war, special agent James Burlane becomes Sid Khartoum, a swaggering cocaine cargo pilot, dropping kilos off the Florida Keys and monitoring the conspicious consumption of the deep-cover cops who befriend him. With so many secret agents with secret agendas, the plot quickly takes on a satisfying who's-with-who insolubility. Hoyt ( Cool Running ), a former army intelligence officer, handles inter-agency intrigue with a firm, cynical grasp, although, given the extent of the sophisticated corruption, the climactic expose of the true culprits in a single session of a congressional committee seems too neat. Hoyt's knack for absurdity--he sets one secret meeting at an exhibition of dolphin water-polo, for instance--gives his story a cheeky, over-the-top quality that makes it memorable. This theatrical style, livened by a liberal lacing of black comedy, fits the topic--a drug war that is mostly media theater. Detours into Santeria provide encounters with a symbol of unambiguous evil, but Hoyt is best at wending a quick and quirky way through ambiguity. Despite the interludes of black magic, this novel has a fast pace and agreeably dark humor. (July)