With more than 35 novels published, W. E. B. Griffin presents THE HUNTERS, the third installment in his Presidential Agent series. Griffin's protagonist is Charley Castillo --- tough, skilled in Special Operations methods and answerable only to the President of the United States. The story takes place in the summer of 2005, in locations from Europe to South America and the United States.
Post-9/11, the Office of Homeland Security is in place. The Director of National Intelligence, Ambassador Charles W. Montvale, resents Castillo's presidential appointment as Chief Officer of Organizational Analysis. Montvale would rather supervise Castillo but accepts the President's wishes for the time being. Amidst subtle reminders that Montvale requires constant updates on his progress, Castillo steams ahead with his task.
The action begins at Estancia Shangri-La in the Republic of Uruguay. Castillo and his small band arrive at the sprawling "big house" in time to find target Jean-Paul Bertrand, holder of a Lebanese passport. Bertrand's real identification is that of Jean-Paul Lorimer, who is suspected of heavy involvement in the oil-for-food scandal. Bertrand's sister had been kidnapped and drugged, and her husband was murdered before her eyes in order to drive home the serious intent of her tormenters. Castillo's mission is to determine the true identity of Bertrand and bring him back to the United States. By the time Castillo's group enters the man's office, they are under fire from unknown assailants. Bertrand has been murdered, and their Special Ops training kicks into place. Castillo's men return fire with deadly accuracy, killing all six unknown, dark-clothed, masked assassins.
Before exiting, one of their own is dead, garroted by an unidentified individual. The garrote is much like the ones used by the Stasi or KGB agents in Cold War times. Castillo finds and takes into possession a sheaf of colored bank-type notes, proof that Bertrand accepted bribe money for his part in the scandal. Sixteen million dollars, when signed by the bearer, can be deposited into an off-shore bank account. Bertrand is dead and has not been identified as Lorimer. With the President's approval, Castillo establishes a bank account for his Office of Operational Analysis; Castillo's web expenditure is the purchase of an airplane.
Meanwhile, Castillo's extensive international family becomes involved in the operation. His mother was German, which gives him exclusive German citizenship and a passport stamped as "Herr Gossinger." He is heir to Tages Zeitung, the largest German daily newspaper, and is its Washington correspondent. Eighty-two-year-old Hungarian Eric Kocian --- Castillo's adopted uncle and editor-in-chief of the paper --- is deep into the investigation of the oil-for-food scandal and targeted by unknown assailants in Budapest.
Castillo's American connection is by way of his father, a Huey pilot who had not yet married his mother. Upon her death, his dad's family, complete with an American passport, brought the boy to live in Texas.
Griffin writes with gusto and rich characters, brimming near-calamities at the precipice with drama. Action moves from one locale to another with breakneck speed. When Castillo needs information, he jets to the source with little time lost. His military rank is elevated to that of Major, a fact few in contact with him learn before recognition can be acknowledged. He isn't concerned with the frills of rank or the petty interferences of Ambassador Montvale.
Sheer numbers of military personnel, civil servants in numerous South American countries, diplomats, journalists and ambassadorial types make for a voluminous cast of characters. Each desires a "need to know" relationship with Castillo. However, repetition does not delay the action forward in THE HUNTERS.
When the pieces of the puzzle begin to settle into a playable picture, Castillo uses all of the resources at his command to bring the solution to fruition. At the heart of blackmail, money-laundering and espionage, he sets the finished product before the President. Surprises abound when treacherous identities are revealed. We'll anticipate the next book in this series; THE HUNTERS cannot be finished with the job.
--- Reviewed by Judy Gigstad.