Mystery Books: Looking for Work-Life Balance, and a Killer
The Reykjavik Assignment: A Yael Azoulay Novel (Yael Azoulay Series) by Adam LeBor (Harper, 464 pp. $15.99 paperback)
Eternal Sonata: A Thriller of the Near Future by Jamie Metzl (Arcade, 299 pp. $24.99)
One of the challenges faced by authors who create franchise protagonists is the task of making each installment appealing on its own for readers who pick up one before its predecessor. Spend too much time on expository prose to recap past adventures and connections to supporting characters and it detracts from the current story. Spend too little and you deprive the reader of the richness of the characters’ experiences and how they shape and inform current actions.
Both Adam LeBor and Jamie Metzl handle this challenge well. LeBor’s Yael Azoulay and Metzl’s Rich Azadian have been through the proverbial wringer by the time we meet them in their latest books, and we are brought up to speed quickly and efficiently enough in the early chapters to enjoy the subsequent ride.
Azoulay, the protagonist of LeBor’s earlier works, The Geneva Option and The Istanbul Exchange, is an Israeli-born United Nations covert negotiator now in New York whose intelligence agency past has given her a few skeletons in her closet but also some rare skills. Her nemesis, Clarence Clairborne, a well-connected international lobbyist and security contractor with the shady Prometheus Group, nurses a grudge against Azoulay for prior escapades. It seems she meddled in a conspiracy to trigger a new Middle East war.
In the final book of LeBor’s trilogy, Azoulay strives for work-life balance, finalizing a groundbreaking United States-Iran summit in Reykjavik between the presidents of the United States and Iran while trying to find time to date New York Times reporter Sami Boustani. The reporter, of course, is chasing down tips in a related scoop. Further complicating matters is the brewing scandal implicating Azoulay’s boss, United Nations Secretary-General Fareed Hussein, in a 1995 massacre in the Balkans.
In Eternal Sonata, we meet Metzl’s Rich Azadian, an undervalued ace reporter for the Kansas City Star, in the near future of 2025, riding high off a big story that was the basis of Metzl’s Genesis Code. That scoop, which netted Azadian a lucrative book deal, involved a murder and a top political candidate’s genetically engineered baby.
The quest leads him to a third scientist who just may be on the verge of a miraculous cancer treatment derived from rare Arctic sea creatures, only to see that scientist very shortly turn up dead. (The book’s title, Eternal Sonata, refers to the endless loop of Bach music playing in the scientist’s lab.)
Working with a reluctant deputy police chief, a remote computer hacker to serve his high-tech needs and other contacts, Azadian heads to Cuba and, later, a mysterious hospital ship on a trail that appears to be leading to a ruthless company’s quest to patent immortality.
The pursuit will also endanger his girlfriend, Antoinette, as the couple copes with their growing estrangement and contemplates the possibility of parenthood.
Both plots are well paced and absorbing, showcasing the authors’ real-life expertise—LeBor is an international investigative journalist and Metzl was a United States State Department official and a former member of the United States National Security Council. While LeBor’s storytelling is more traditional, Metzl uses first-person and present tense, a style that doesn’t always work well. But, in this instance, it provides both immediacy and strong insight to the protagonist’s world.
At a time of increasing suspicion about potential secret interactions between governments, the ability of global corporations to influence events and the fear that science and technology will spin out of control and lead us into ethical quagmires, both these books provide a a well-informed, thrilling read just plausible—and somewhat scary—enough to be compelling.