DEADLOCK opens in war-torn Afghanistan with archaeologist Joel Levy saying, “Most of those artifacts are less than a hundred years old” to friend, archaeologist, partner and protagonist Emily Hudson. Emily replies, “And you wanted to find Alexander’s sword or a new version of the Bible.” A prayer book may have been useful hours later, to keep Joel’s fingers from being hacked off with a sword, just before single-named terrorist Staunton “burned out his eyes.”
Iris Johansen, recently the author of DARK SUMMER and PANDORA’S DAUGHTER, introduces two new characters in this nightmare-while-awake thriller, her 34th novel. Successful authors of thrillers need a hook. With Johansen, her book is the hook.
The word “deadlock” is defined as a standstill resulting from opposition of two unrelenting factions. With piano-wire tension for the reader, Johansen defines DEADLOCK with international intrigue, plot twists and shocking betrayals. The standoff here is between former CIA operative John Garrett and Russian “Peter Joslyn, the big plastics industrialist...who was in control of all the money.” The money in question manipulates many lives --- and leads to the tortuous death of Joel. All this in the relentless pursuit of the mysterious Zelov’s hammer. This priceless artifact has hidden in it the fourth and most important amulet that is the key to discovering the location of untold wealth of the last Russian tsar, which has been accumulated by generations of the Romanov dynasty. But Peter is only a puppet pulled by strings of many others far more powerful. Or is that standoff between Emily and Garrett?
After rescuing Emily from certain gang-rape and probable death, Garrett questions her loyalty and gratitude, as she is out for vengeance, which may get them both killed. Garrett whisks Emily away to the tiny Greek island Mykala, when he rescues her with her virtue --- and soul --- intact, and explains to her that Greek friend Irana nursed him back to life when he had been riddled with bullets, after foolishly infringing upon a competitor’s operation of smuggling relics.
“I’d trespassed into his territory and acquired a statue that he regarded as his property. He wanted to set an example.”
“You’re a smuggler?”
“Among other things.”
Garrett is a soldier of fortune, dubious purveyor of antiquities, “an Indiana Jones wannabe.” Emily and Garrett rack up more frequent-flier miles than a space shuttle crew, with stops in Greece, Kabul, New York, Paris, Miami and Moscow. And the only turbulence is a baker’s dozen international thugs trying to kill Emily for an early dinner and Garrett for dessert. Multiple near misses add intrigue, while James Bond-like gizmos make Tech World Expo look like a manual typewriter compared to a NASA computer. Fortunately for Emily, caller ID cannot be blocked by the techno-geeks and international terrorists, and cell phone locations are traced --- while the users are flying to exotic places.
Other turbulence builds. Aloof and sexy jet-setter Garrett is attracted to Emily, but tells himself, “Get over it. It was probably purely sexual.” Garrett has a job to do --- protect Emily. He tells himself that he must be patient, but “To hell with patience.” Lock that virtue in a chastity belt, Emily. She intermittently is attracted to Garrett. But is that just a ruse to use Garrett as a means to an end, tracking down and killing Staunton? She knows how to use a man to her advantage. Go, girl, go! Emily ponders that “she would not make the mistake believing that Garrett could be involved with her on a more permanent basis. They were too different. It had to be the situation that was binding them together.” Emily may convince her mind of that, but not her sex-starved body.
Those who want intimate descriptions of exotic locations will need travel or photo books. James Bond stars in films set in glamorous cosmopolitan cities, a Westerner’s view of Russia, Turkey and Greece. Emily Hudson, who “has fragility beneath the strength,” treks rugged mountain passes in desolate Afghanistan, parched farmlands in Ethiopia, and the seediest sections of Istanbul. With crystal-clear skies in remote areas, stars abound. The simple mention of exotic locations without detailed descriptions to let the audience know what the characters visualize allows the reader to see only three stars with this novel. Still, DEADLOCK is another solid effort from Iris Johansen --- fast-paced and dialogue-rich, with plenty of international intrigue.
Reviewed by L. Dean Murphy on December 29, 2010