by Victory Crayne
Reviewed by Scott T. Barnes
Full disclosure here, I have known Victory Crayne for a number of years as a professional editor, a ghost writer, and a skilled fiction writer in her own right.
Reluctant Spy didn't disappoint. Jake Dani is a private investigator on a backwards colonial world called Rossa. The only thing notable about Rossa is that the serum for Crissa, a major epidemic back on Earth, is made on the southern continent. However, the planet's anonymity may now be shattered– since the Prime Minister's wife was murdered, and the PM's own son arrested for it.
Jake, down on his luck and estranged from his overbearing father, gets called by the PM to clear his son. This could be Jake's big break, something he desperately needs, since his daughter is infected with Crissa.
As in all good suspense thrillers, things quickly get complicated. Jake's cousin Ron gets in a jam, and reveals he has been recruited as a spy for the Binger Intelligence Service (BIS), a group representing genetically modified humans. Jake himself has modified DNA, something he strives to conceal. His father always warned him to stay away from the BIS; several family members have been killed in their employ. The suspect in the murder, Ranute Fallow, leads a civil rights group protesting the exploitation of native species known as the napes. And, of course, the napes have some sort of involvement in the serum manufacture for Crissa.
All clues point to Orion, the pharmaceutical company, and their operation on the frontier "wild west" continent of Suda.
It quickly becomes clear that Ranute did not kill his stepmother (the PM's wife), and whoever did does not want Jake and Ron to discover the truth. We begin following the hired gun Carlos as he draws Jake and Ron into a trap.
The beginning of Reluctant Spy is dynamite: characterization, suspense, mystery...all of it. The pacing is great. As with many books, the middle is less engaging, and the end never quite regained the explosive power of the beginning. Not to say I was disappointed, but my expectations had been set very high. It is written in straight-forward prose, which worked beautifully with the subject matter. My one complaint with the book is that it never created a "sense of wonder," one of the great enjoyments of the genre. The simple prose contributed in some way to this. You won't find elegant paragraphs of "flora and fauna," as one of my friends disparagingly refers to Lord of the Rings. In addition, the spy thriller action is very much rooted in present day, with the science fiction elements accoutrements rather than critical. Except, of course, for the central mystery of Orion, Crissa, and the napes.
People who enjoy science fiction, suspense, and mystery-thrillers will enjoy this. Those readers looking to be transported to another world for a "sense of wonder" will have to look elsewhere.
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