Sunday, June 24, 2012

Agent X

Agent X by Noah Boyd
The Bricklayer, #2

FBI-agent-turned-bricklayer Steve Vail once helped the FBI solve a brilliant extortion plot. It was supposed to be a one-and-done deal. But when he's in Washington, D.C., to see Kate Bannon—an FBI assistant director—on what he thinks will be a romantic New Year's Eve date, suddenly things get complicated. The FBI has another unsolvable problem, and it has Vail's name written all over it.

A man known as Calculus, an officer at the Russian embassy, has approached the FBI claiming that he has a list of Americans who are selling confidential information to the Russian SVR. In exchange for the list, he is asking for a quarter of a million dollars for each traitor the FBI apprehends. But then Calculus informs the FBI that he has been swiftly recalled to Moscow, and the Bureau suspects the worst: the Russians have discovered what Calculus is up to, probably have access to his list, and will be hunting the traitors to kill them unless the FBI can find them first.

The FBI realizes that it has to keep the operation quiet. Once again, Vail is the perfect man, along with Kate Bannon, who would be anyone's first pick for help on an impossibly dangerous case. But finding the traitors isn't going to be easy. In fact, it's going to be downright deadly. And if the Bricklayer survives, he will have to come up with a few tricks of his own.

--Agent X
by Noah Boyd
Copyright © 20  by Noah Boyd
Published by PUBLISHER

My Review

This story started with a great premise.  A Russian agent has a list of Americans selling information to the Russians.  Before he can deliver the list to the FBI, however, he’s taken back to Russia.  He’s left clues to find the list.  All the FBI has to do is decipher them and they’ll have the list.

Easier said than done.  But then, isn’t it always?

Steve Vail is in town, hoping to hook up again with Kate Bannon, an FBI assistant director, but instead of going out, they’re both called in and assigned to work together on this case.  Steve’s not FBI, but has helped them in the past and his unique problem-solving abilities are just what this case calls for.

That’s where this story starts to lose me.  I really hate it when the plot of a story involves a bad guy who crafts a puzzle that only “one person in the world” can solve.  And aren’t the authorities lucky that they know just who that “one person in the world” is and they happen to have him on speed-dial?

Yeah, that’s what happens here.  The Russian leaves clues to the identities of the moles in difficult-to-find places and our hero, Steve Vail, has no trouble solving the puzzles.  In fact, he does so with such ease, I’m surprised the other agents in the story don’t feel embarrassed for not figuring it all out for themselves.

I felt like I was reading a novelization of a “hidden object” game, the type where you have to find Object A in order to retrieve Object B in order to open Object C and obtain Object D, all so you could use Object D in Room E to obtain Object F so you get the idea.  As an example, Steve and Kate break into a Russian safe house and Steve not only knows that the entire house is booby-trapped, he knows exactly how its rigged to explode, so don’t turn the lights on because that’ll ignite the phosphorus-filled light bulbs (the what?) which will set off the sprinkler system which will get the envelope which contains the disc we came to get wet, which, by the way, is also covered in phosphorus so if it gets wet it’ll ignite the phosphorus and destroy the disc—but not to worry…our cunning friend protected the envelope by putting a bowl over it so the sprinkler head that just happened to be located directly over it wouldn’t get it wet.  WHAT THE WHAT? And how exactly does one dismantle a light bulb in order to fill it with phosphorus and reassemble it so it’ll work properly?  Who knows how to do that sort of thing?  Oh, right, Steve Vail does.  And the guy who set up the whole thing.

I actually think the booby-traps in this house are quite clever and this could have been a really good scene, but because Vail knows everything in an instant, it took a lot of the intrigue and suspense out of it.  It was ridiculous how conveniently-easy everything was for Vail throughout the story.  Readers like to be kept in suspense, and there was very little of that in this story.

Because of that, I must confess I only read half of the story and skimmed through the rest, just to see how it ends.  The one saving grace? I checked this book out from the library, so it didn’t cost me anything but the time I spent reading it.

There’s actually one story that precedes this one, The Bricklayer.  Normally, I’d read the first book in a series first, then the next, but for some weird reason, I read this first.  Perhaps, for that reason, I didn’t quite understand some of the dynamics between the characters or some of the quirks of the individual characters themselves.  I will get around to reading The Bricklayer soon, so hopefully that will clear up some of my confusion.  But I won’t attempt to reread Agent X.  Once was enough.
I give this story TWO AND A HALF STARS.

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