Best known for his 1974 thriller "Six Days of the Condor" (truncated by
Hollywood into the Robert Redford vehicle "Three Days of the Condor"), Grady returns to the theme of a rogue element loose within the CIA. But while that story was a classic thriller in the '70s mold, this one is all kinds of wild and wacky, and may well not be to the liking of those who like straightforward spy stories. It begins in a top secret government lunatic asylum in rural Maine, where government assets who are psychologically damaged are stashed for observation and safekeeping.
We meet the five heroes in group session with their temporary psychiatrist, and are quickly introduced to their various neuroses. When the psychiatrist is apparently murdered in the their closed ward, the quintet confer and decide that since they're going to get blamed for the murder, they'd better make a break for it. And so begins a rollicking road-trip down the Northeast seaboard to Washington, D.C., where they hope to unmask the true killer and clear themselves. Their escape is inventive, although perhaps a bit too easy -- one would think that some slightly more elaborate security procedures would be in place given the known capabilities of the patients. The trip south is relatively entertaining, as -- coming down off their meds -- they must zig and zag to avoid and outwit local law enforcement and the black ops teams sent to track them dow . Along the way, we get extended flashback chapters explaining what happened to each of the five that shattered their mind.
Posing as a German engineer, geeky Eric got swept up with other guest workers during the first Gulf War and was tortured by Iraqi intelligence to the point where he can only obey orders and has no free will. Black and beautiful Hailey was unexpectedly placed in the middle of a dangerous deal involving an African diamond smuggler / arms merchant / nuclear materials broker and some Russians and the realpolitik of the outcome left her emotionally broken. Zane is an old Vietnam vet whose bright idea for a counterintel operation along the Ho Chi Minh Trail leads to him witnessing the slaughter of his father figure and a grim rescue operation. Russell was working undercover as a Serb militiaman in Bosnia and saw one atrocity too many before he snapped. And for protagonist Victor who was working in Malaysia in the mid-'90s trying to keep tabs on al-Qaeda, it was the death of the woman he loved. These lengthy vignettes are told much more straightforwardly than the rest of the book, and make for much more compelling -- if horrific -- reading. While this background information makes one sympathetic to the five characters, they're not exactly fleshed out in any meaningful way. Each has a distinctive trait or two, and each is given a moment to shine, but they generally feel like types rather than people.
As they make their way from Maine to Manhattan to Asbury Park (NJ) to Wheaton (MD) and finally, Bethesda, the team picks up a hostage/witness and tries to piece together all the parts using their considerable spycraft. Consistently befuddled by each new piece of information, they turn to the one person who may be able to save them, in a denouement that's rather disappointing. The writing is very loose at times, veering into streams of consciousness as Grady peers into the heads of five people coming off their meds and trying to grapple with the outside world. Ultimately the book is full of energy, but energy that's not always harnessed.