Monday, February 27, 2012

The China Gambit

Political thriller fans demand a few specific things from the genra, among them: non-stop action, a plausible plot, and fearless good guys they can watch spoil the dangerous plans of the baddies.  It is a bonus when any of the main characters are especially believable or well-developed.  Allan Topol comes very close to giving his fans that bonus in his latest, The China Gambit, the first volume of his planned trilogy featuring ex-CIA agent Craig Page.

Since being pushed out of the CIA, Page, in the role of private consultant, has taken his fight against international terrorism to Europe.  But when he learns that his daughter has been killed while working on a “big story” for a New York City newspaper, Page puts everything aside to find out who is responsible.  When both Page and his daughter’s editor, Elizabeth Crowder, become convinced that Francesca Page’s death was no accident, they team up to avenge her murder. 

Unfortunately for those responsible for the murder, they have unknowingly killed the daughter of a man directly experienced in stopping just the sort of plot they are devising to cripple the United States economy.  Even more unfortunate for the bad guys, Elizabeth Crowder, though less experienced than Page, will prove to be a highly capable partner to him as their investigation takes them around the globe. 

Allan Topal
The China Gambit is a wild ride that will find Craig and Elizabeth working undercover inside both Iran and China, usually one tiny step ahead of those determined to stop them – when they are lucky.  Craig Page proves to be an interesting character with a long history and an intriguing worldview.  Topol does an admirable job of telling Page’s backstory in this first volume, but readers will likely learn much more about the man’s makeup in the last two books of the series.  Elizabeth Crowder, on the other hand, is almost too good to be true, considering that she has almost no hands-on experience in fighting (or even much being around) terrorists and what they do.  But she is not really too much of a stretch because, for most thriller fans, suspending one’s disbelief is second nature; it comes with the territory.  After all, do any of us ever really expect that our hero will die or fail in the end?  Consider how much more exciting political thrillers would be if we could achieve the impossible by convincing ourselves that things might actually go wrong for our hero.

Rated at: 4.0

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