Review

Smoke & Mirrors

by John Ramsey Miller

John
Ramsey Miller is the new king of rock 'n' roll. As Exhibit A of
that proposition, I am respectfully setting forth SMOKE &
MIRRORS, his latest Winter Massey thriller. Miller has been moving
his Massey mythos right along, painstakingly developing his
character in a number of different settings and situations, so that
neither the hero nor the story has become repetitive, predictable
or stale. Along the way he has continued to raise his own bar and
jump over it with each successive work.

Having said that, SMOKE & MIRRORS is going to be tough for even
Miller to top, given its solid, non-stop action, served up with
complex but comprehensible plotting and rugged characterization. It
begins sedately enough --- at least for a page or two --- with
Massey partaking in a hunting trip in the Mississippi delta country
just below Memphis. His sojourn is interrupted by Sheriff Brad
Barnett, an old friend of Massey’s who brings terrible news.
A 19-year-old babysitter has been killed by a high-velocity shot in
what appears to be an unfortunate but otherwise innocent hunting
accident.

There are two things, however, that bring Massey into the
investigation. The first is the presence of one of Massey’s
business cards in the area from which the shot was apparently
fired. The second is of profound significance to him: a solitary
red toothpick, soaked in oil of cloves, which is also found nearby.
The toothpick is the calling card of Paulus Styer, a nightmarish
assassin who is more than Massey’s equal and who, at the last
meeting of the two men, almost ended Massey’s life. Styer is
a master of murder and of disguises, and his presence, even as it
puts Massey on guard, makes him wonder Why here? And why
now?

The answer is tied to a powerful gambling conglomerate with
tentacles that reach from the statehouse of Mississippi all the way
into the halls of the Federal government. A major gaming resort is
planned for the Tunica County area, and the only thing standing in
the way is the reticence of a sole landowner. Given that literally
billions of dollars are riding on the successful completion of the
project, the land must be obtained either conventionally or
otherwise.

Styer is capable of providing pressure in frightening but effective
ways, and in the instant case he sees not only the opportunity to
complete a job but also to settle his unfinished business with
Massey. Styer and Massey play a cat-and-mouse game throughout, with
Styer at times hiding in plain sight. FBI agent Alexa Keen,
featured most recently in TOO FAR GONE, is there to help, but Styer
is so clever and diabolical that even with the odds stacked against
him, he appears to hold all of the cards. The book plays out to an
extended, cataclysmic climax, one from which none of the parties
involved will escape unchanged.

Miller lobs plot-point hand grenades into SMOKE & MIRRORS from
start to finish, bringing surprise after surprise to the page just
when the reader thinks it’s safe to draw a breath. And no
sooner is it over than the beginning of Miller’s next novel,
a stand-alone work titled THE LAST DAY, is previewed in the back.
It simply doesn’t get any better than this.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 23, 2011

Smoke & Mirrors
by John Ramsey Miller

  • Publication Date: March 25, 2008
  • Genres: Fiction, Thriller
  • Mass Market Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Dell
  • ISBN-10: 0440243106
  • ISBN-13: 9780440243106