cover image Black Eagles: 9

Black Eagles: 9

Larry Collins. Dutton Books, $23.95 (432pp) ISBN 978-0-525-93971-9

A premise budding with possibilities fails to bear fruit in this disappointing new thriller from newsman-turned-novelist Collins (Maze). The premise is that, for decades, two federal agents are unwittingly set against one another over the CIA's role in the nation's growing drug problem and the Reagan and Bush administrations' covert relationship with Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega. The two agents are Kevin Grady of the DEA, who first becomes aware of CIA complicity in drug smuggling in Vietnam in 1968, and Company spook Jack Lind, who clashes with Grady in Vietnam and later becomes the main CIA link with Noriega, even as Grady is beginning to uncover the dictator's relationship with the Medellin cocaine cartel. Since each man remains basically ignorant of the other's involvement until late in the novel, however, the implied conflict between the two generates insufficient heat. The story is told in first-person flashbacks, through Grady's memory and through tape recordings left behind by Lind after his suicide; it's this death that opens the book, making suspense dependent on the tensions within and between the two men, rather than on their fates. But neither character is well developed, with Lind's ultimate change of heart turning unconvincingly on the death of a woman he has come to love. Much of the dialogue sounds wooden or false, as well. Cameos by real-life figures, including Noriega, CIA chief William Casey and drug lord Pablo Escobar, add some zing, but not enough. Even star hitters strike out sometimes, and a thriller writer as generally reliable as Collins can be forgiven for whiffing this time. (Nov.)