With his third excellent thriller in just two years, West Point grad and military strategist Brian Haig has progressed from being a pleasant surprise to one of our best plotters of fictional intrigue.
At this point in time, you could even say that Haig - the son of former Secretary of State Alexander Haig - has taken charge of a subgenre that Nelson DeMille makes occasional forays into.
"The Kingmaker" finds Haig's hero, Maj. Sean Drummond, an Army JAG lawyer and former commando with a top secret unit, being handed yet another politically tricky case with national security implications. Drummond is not sure if he keeps getting these cases because of his ability to tick off his superiors with his incessant sarcasm, because they trust him or, perhaps, both.
Drummond is called to defend Maj. General William T. Morrison, who is being tried on charges of high treason and espionage. If the case against Morrison is true, he sold enough secrets to the Russians at the height of the Cold War to make Aldrich Ames seem like a piker.
Drummond is conflicted about his new assignment. If it's not enough that his job is to defend the most hated man in America, he has plenty of personal reasons to enjoy seeing Morrison take a drubbing. As a soldier and a patriot, Drummond heartily endorses the death penalty for traitors, but his dislike for Morrison hits even closer to home.
Morrison is not only an unpleasant jerk but also the only woman Drummond ever asked to marry him chose Morrison because, Drummond suspects, of his brighter future.
Drummond always seems to be paired with a woman to clash with, and Haig gives him two in "The Kingmaker."
Short on people who are both fluent in Russian and competent defense lawyers, the Army assigns Katrina Mazorski as Drummond's co-counsel. Katrina, a public defender, is a dark beauty who likes to provoke reaction from button-down types by wearing skintight clothes to meetings and flaunting her various body piercings - not to mention her penchant for smart-mouthed quips that are nearly the equal of Drummond's.
His life and case become even more complicated by Mary Morrison, a high-ranking CIA officer who insists on Drummond as her husband's counsel but whose testimony is a major part of the government's case.
Drummond's investigation takes him to Moscow, where Morrison had been stationed and where Mary had been the CIA station chief. The end of the Cold War and the new ties between the United States and Russia, he discovers, don't mean that intelligence agencies are suddenly willing to part with secrets.
The answer lies in the deepest secrets of the final days of the Soviet Union. Things get very tricky when Drummond's primary defense witness turns out to be a dashing Russian intelligence officer who is the CIA's best and most secret source - and who is also given to ranting about a secret cabal of Russians who have manipulated his country for 40 years.
As he did with Kosovo in "Secret Sanction" and Korea in "Mortal Allies," Haig performs his customarily excellent job in immersing the reader in the dark corners of current foreign policy without ever stopping the action to pedantically instruct. "The Kingmaker" is his most action-packed and complicated novel yet, with Drummond forced to go even farther out on a limb than in the past.
"The Kingmaker" is terrific entertainment by an author just hitting his stride. He probably won't publishing three books every two years, but I hope the wait for the next Sean Drummond thriller isn't too long.