John Corey, the wisecracking, authority-defying NYPD detective, is back in Nelson DeMille's latest adventure, "The Lion's Game."
Corey, who solved a mystery while recovering from bullet wounds in "Plum Island," has been forced by the department to take a permanent disability pension.
But a referral from his ex-partner, combined with a surprising recommendation from the two feds he tangled with while investigating a government laboratory on Plum Island, has gotten him a job with the Anti-Terrorist Task Force.
The ATTF is an elite unit composed of cops and feds that is unique to New York City because of the city's international nature. Now Corey, who has more than the average cop's distrust of the feds, is one.
Corey and his squad are supposed to take delivery of a Libyan defector at JFK airport. Asad Khalil, a.k.a. "The Lion," is the world's most wanted terrorist. He surprised U.S. intelligence when he suddenly gave himself up in Paris. Now, handcuffed to two federal agents, he is landing in New York City.
The 747 suddenly loses radio contact, though it is still flying steadily toward the city. Thinking it to be a technical glitch, airport authorities are not unduly alarmed. When the plane lands and sits eerily quiet on the runway, airport emergency services are dispatched. But they are completely unprepared for what they find.
Khalil, it seems, is not in America to avoid assassination or give up Ghadaffi's secrets. He has come for an act of retribution. Instead of sneaking in through America's soft borders like a respectable terrorist, he has arrived in brutal style with a shocking and spectacular act of mass murder.
Most Americans barely remember Ronald Reagan's air attack on Libya, mostly because Ghadaffi for years has avoided doing anything to tick America off in a major way - thanks to U.S. warplanes dropping high explosives on his home in 1986.
Khalil, however, has more than just national revenge in mind. His motives are intensely personal. While he cuts a swath through the squadron that bombed his home and killed his family, a government that guards its secrets from itself better than from its enemies stays several steps behind.
Unlike Tom Clancy , who has spent the last decade in dire need of an editor, DeMille's pace never flags through nearly 700 pages.
Corey's determinedly politically incorrect wiseacre attitude helps a lot, but the vivid character here is Khalil himself. At least half the story is told from his point of view; with the flashbacks to his past, he becomes well rounded and human - though a single-minded killing machine.
An Army veteran himself, DeMille is very comfortable in dealing with military and intelligence matters, balancing the cynicism with the patriotism, the bureaucratic bumbling with the heroism. As a veteran writer, he never lets the technical details get in the way of good storytelling.
A couple of criticisms, though. The romance in "The Lion's Game" is supposed to be the true love of Corey's life, but it's not as endearing as the relationship in "Plum Island." For fans of that book, the way Corey too easily shrugs off Beth will remind many of a snake shedding its skin.
Also, this is DeMille's longest book to date, and when you are done, there is a sense of "Is this all there is?"
As you are reading "The Lion's Game," however, every page is absorbing. DeMille puts together a narrative that forges ahead with the speed and force of a high-speed train. It's hard to resist hopping aboard for the ride and going the distance.