The passing of the Cold War dealt a severe blow to the spy-thriller literary genre, as cloak-and-dagger interplay between "western" and "eastern" intelligence agents became almost overnight an historical anachronism. In *Whirlwind*, however, Joseph Garber manages to revive the spy novel by positing that in some situations, anyway, intrigue between American and Russian agents still might form the basis for a good story. Overall, he succeeds in this endeavor, as *Whirlwind* not only is an engrossing page-turner, but the basic story line posited by the author is almost eerily plausible.
The basic plot that Garber weaves in *Whirlwind* involves the theft of an American top-secret weapon by Russian agents, but there is a lot more involved here, including distant maneuverings by the ever-ambitious Chinese, duplicitous U.S. government officials, for-hire [...] organizations, and on and on. The story is inventive, filled with twists and turns that for the most part are convincing and authentically surprising, and there is even some psychological exploration of the major characters. Overall, Garber's imagination, knowledge of the "spy business," and his literary talents render this a truly good read for anyone who might enjoy this type of novelistic thriller.
The very nature of the "spy thriller" genre imposes limitations on the work as "literature," however. The main characters, while certainly interesting, are almost cartoon-like in their near-omniscience, their almost unlimited powers to cope with any situation, no matter how dire. The female lead, the Russian agent Irina Kolodenkova, is, *of course*, gorgeous, blonde, brilliant, and almost infinitely resourceful. The book's hero, the out-of-retirement CIA operative Charlie McKenzie, while unique in his advanced age, is all-knowing and James Bond-like in his powers, including his powers of recuperation from physical injury.
That these protagonists, and also villainous South African mercenary Johan Schmidt can miraculously and often instantaneously solve any problem and escape any threat becomes the literary device of choice for Garber. While this allows the story to move forward vigorously, it starts to resemble in places the ancient Greek dramatic institution of *deus ex machina*, whereby whenever decisive solutions were needed within a play the gods would descend from on high to resolve all problems. This "geez, these people can do ANYTHING" tendency might cause some readers to roll their eyes after a while.
Another issue that might be a bit off-putting is the preponderance of blood and gore that punctuates the novel throughout. People squeamish about explicit descriptions of violence are hereby warned away.
I confess that *Whirlwind* is not the kind of novel I ordinarily would read, and yet I found it interesting and highly engrossing. The political/moral world-view revealed by Garber here is one that is cynical and hard-boiled, but in light of where trends seem to be taking us in the United States, I found his skepticism about political leaders and nation-states to be uncomfortably plausible. Overall, it's a good read.