I give Ms. Low credit for attempting to bring complexity to both plot and characters in this book; unfortunately, it gets out of control. The result is a tangled web worthy of a family of demented spiders.
Ricardo Harden has become what he always hated – a bureaucrat. Unfortunately, although he’s spent ten uneventful years moving paper as Operations Chief of a covert operations group, Rick’s loyalty and honesty are being questioned. His boss, a man he’s hated for ten years, has been arrested for selling classified information.
Some senior elements in the counterintelligence hierarchy are more interested in knowing if Rick is trustworthy than using him as a scapegoat. That’s why, in addition to the usual inquiries, an influential admiral brings Nikki Taylor out of retirement to produce an independent report.
Rick knows the moment he sees Nikki that her appearance in his life is no coincidence. Nikki, an Asian-American with extremely long blue-black hair, bears a strong resemblance to his wife, an agent who died on a failed mission ten years earlier. Ever since, Rick has been trying unsuccessfully to find out what happened to her.
Nikki agreed to come out of retirement to take on this investigation, hoping to find some answers about her own past. An agent abandoned by her superiors when she was captured and tortured ten years ago, Nikki was rescued when a powerful operative discovered her whereabouts by accident. She has had psychological help as well as extensive surgery to repair the ravages of torture. She has large gaps in her memory, though, and has been promised that her file will be opened to her once she completes this assignment.
This book has a huge cast of characters, some of whom I think we’re supposed to remember from Ms. Low’s previous book. Given the sheer numbers and their sometimes complex relationships, I found that an unrealistic expectation (and I’ve read the previous book). As well, the story is an alphabet soup of acronyms, most of which belong to invented organizations, so keeping track of what they all are and who belongs where – particularly when even some of the people go by initials – becomes a chore.
Nikki and Rick are both emotionally murky characters. They are so full of conflicting desires and contradictions that I never felt I had a good handle on why I should like either of them. Rick is famed for the sexual prowess he uses to control women as part of his job. For most of the book, he manipulates Nikki sexually with the same cold calculation – and yet I’m supposed to believe that his feelings are engaged. And he’s furious that Nikki doesn’t seem to trust him, but doesn’t see any irony in the fact that he’s hiding things from her as well.
Nikki is supposedly so thoroughly recovered from her harrowing ordeal that she’s had a successful five-year career as a skilled operative in an extremely demanding organization. But she constantly dissolves into a pathetic mess, and the author never succeeds in convincing me that both these things are part of one integrated personality. There’s also some strong suggestion at the beginning of the book that Nikki’s captivity left her with some heightened sensory perceptions, but this is a red herring, leading nowhere. Apparently, it’s part of the same vague Chinese mysticism that necessitates flashbacks in which Nikki remembers the philosophical teachings of her wise grandmother. These flashbacks serve mostly to remind us that Nikki actually seems to have a great deal of her memory, and that her lost memories are a convenient plot device.
Finally, the suspense in the story is not consistent. Near the end, it disappears for a long period while Nikki and Rick dissect themselves psychologically, but not making any progress. I wanted to see these characters learn something, but they covered the same ground over and over.
There’s just far too much going on. Complexity is not a bad thing, but burying the reader in details and information is exhausting, and makes it difficult to understand what’s really important. A single spider web is both simple and complex, and more than sufficient to catch flies; a spider web skyscraper is overkill.
-- Judi McKee