Steven Gore is a private investigator whose work has required him to wear seven-league boots. He has testified in courtrooms around the world, and if his debut novel is any indication, he did much more than shuttle from airports to lawyers’ offices and back again. FINAL TARGET is informed with an on-the-street immediacy that puts the reader in the middle of the action, whether in an interrogation room in San Francisco or a restaurant in Ukraine.
FINAL TARGET has been announced as the first in a series of novels featuring high-powered investigator Graham Gage. Things get off to a rousing start, first with the murder of a young woman that is explained later --- much later --- in the book, then with a second attack on a jogger that leaves the man comatose. The jogger is Jack Burch, the principal partner of an international law firm located in San Francisco. This attack by firearm is initially thought to be road rage, but Gage, who is not only one of Burch’s clients but also one of his best friends, thinks otherwise.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office doesn’t really care; if Burch emerges from his coma, a hungry attack dog named William Peterson is waiting to indict him. Peterson, an assistant U.S. attorney in San Francisco, is pursuing the case of his career, one that involves a corporation named SatTek Industries, which has gone belly-up, leaving its baffled stockholders holding an empty bag where hundreds of millions of dollars were once upon a time. Peterson is convinced that Burch assisted the officers of SatTek in setting up some shell corporations and offshore bank accounts in order to launder money obtained from stockholders as well as from the proceeds of the sale of dual-use technology to the government of Ukraine. Gage is doing double duty for his friend, trying to determine who wanted him killed and gathering evidence that will either clear Burch’s name or, at the least, prevent him from being arrested if he makes it back to this side of the veil.
Gage uncovers quite a bit, enough that he wonders if in fact his friend is guilty of at least some of the things for which Peterson is about to seek an indictment. But Gage knows Burch too well to truly believe that he would do anything illicit, and ultimately finds that Burch is being set up as a result of a plea-bargaining agreement that will leave Burch as a high-profile target. Gage, however, is not without resources of his own. With the assistance of a savvy set of operatives in both San Francisco and Ukraine, Gage sets up a sting that will see that his friend remains a free man --- if he can stay alive --- and that justice is done.
Gore paints FINAL TARGET on a huge, truly global canvas, one that stretches from the west coast of the United States to the rough countryside of Ukraine and back again. One gets the feeling that Gore has more than dabbled in the topics that he writes about, given his easy familiarity in relating the hows and wheres and wherefores of what is happening on the printed page. The result is that FINAL TARGET is more plot-driven than character-driven. While that is not unfortunate, I would like to have gotten to know Gage a bit better; he seemed to be constantly in motion, though certainly events conspired to keep him that way. It will be worth reading ABSOLUTE RISK, the second in the series to be published later this year, to find out.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 21, 2011