cover image Days of Drums

Days of Drums

Philip Shelby. Simon & Schuster, $21.5 (318pp) ISBN 978-0-684-80177-3

In this fast and furious--but overly calculated--thriller, a female Secret Service agent is set up to take the fall for the assassination of a powerful senator. As a child, little Holland Tylo endured a ``spray of blood'' from the body of her father, also a U.S. senator, when he was pierced by an assassin's bullets. This traumatic event, in Shelby's hands, is supposed to explain not only why Tylo grew up to become a Secret Service agent but also why she is so driven to find the killer of Senator Charles Westbourne, who is slain after insisting that Tylo, who's guarding him, let him have a little privacy. Primed to take the fall for Westbourne's death, Tylo turns out to be the unwitting owner of a computer disk that contains the dead man's smoking-gun evidence against powerful members of the government--and the killer knows this, because Tylo is trusting the wrong people. But instead of turning into a cat-and-mouse game or a gritty procedural, the novel quickly comes to resemble only a fleshed-out screenplay, where the seen-it-before plot has Tylo framed for murder, branded as a rogue agent and sent into hiding--from where, with the help of a few loyal friends, she attempts to clear her name, reveal the conspiracy and bring the killer and the guilty to justice. This is thriller-writing by the numbers--a lot of drive and a lot of energy, but very little heart or feeling for devastating events, like the death of a lover; there are too many unflattering echoes of the movie In the Line of Fire, as well. If Shelby (Oasis of Dreams, 1992) set out to write a novel destined to become a soulless but action-filled movie blockbuster, he's succeeded. 250,000 first printing; film rights to Tri-Star; Simon & Schuster Audio. (Jan.)