cover image Walking Back the Cat

Walking Back the Cat

Robert Littell. Overlook Press, $23.95 (224pp) ISBN 978-0-87951-764-9

Two veteran publishing folk--espionage novelist Littell (The Visiting Professor, etc.) and former Penguin CEO Peter Mayer, now Overlook's publisher--make a smashing debut at Overlook by way of Littell's superb new spyfest. Littell weaves a wickedly twisted plot, setting the novel's nefarious action in a reclaimed mountain ghost town in a Surma Apache Indian reservation in New Mexico. A deep-cover KGB network, dormant since the end of the Cold War, is revived when a hit is ordered on a Russian woman in a small Texas town. The hit man, codenamed Parsifal, gets curious when his next victims are all Apache Indians. He begs his handler to explain why, but is stonewalled. Meanwhile, a Gulf War veteran known as Finn, on the run from the law, has found tentative refuge on the reservation, befriending the tribe's leader, Eskeltsetle, his young wife, Shenandoah, and his son, Thomas. When Finn catches Shenandoah dealing winning poker hands to a casino patron, he presses Eskeltsetle, who reveals an extortion scheme by the Mafia and the deaths of the several young tribe members who tried to end it. The Indian sends Finn to the tribe's ""guardian angel,"" a local newspaper editor who in turn propels Finn into ambush with Parsifal. Learning from Finn of the Mafia connection, however, the assassin begins to doubt the bona fides of his handler and spares Finn's life. Finn and Parsifal join forces to ""walk back the cat,"" starting with the editor and following the trail to discover who had co-oped the KGB network and to what end. Sinister deeds and playful characterizations ricochet the reader through a complex plot, replacing the genre's usual high-tech gizmos with the strengths and skills of lone-wolf heroes. This is a top-notch entry from a master of the genre. 50,000 first printing; $40,000 ad/promo. (June)