Just because the Cold War is over doesn’t mean that fans of that era’s international thrillers (think le Carré, Clancy) can’t find a good read. In SILENT THUNDER, Iris and and Roy Johansen don’t let the end of United States/Soviet tension stand in the way of a top-notch espionage yarn set in both the U.S. and the former USSR.
Iris Johansen writes bestselling suspense fiction, and her son, Roy, has won the prestigious Edgar Award. Between them they have crafted a page turner with all the elements an espionage junkie could want:
- A brilliant and beautiful heroine (marine researcher Hannah Bryson)
- A mysterious stranger, Kirov, who may be Hannah’s best shot --- or her last mistake
- A Russian submarine (the decommissioned Silent Thunder)
- An evil mastermind (the ruthless Pavski)
- Fabled buried treasure (the Czech Golden Cradle)
- A corrupt congressman blackmailed into playing with the bad guys
- A shady CIA operative who keeps his eye on the prize
- Imperiled children (Hannah’s niece and nephew)
- Undertones of a dangerous romance between Hannah and Kirov
- A beautiful ex-KGB agent, Eugenia, who hasn’t lost her touch, or her fondness for Kirov
While all the requisites are there, SILENT THUNDER never moves into cartoonish territory, and the action and characters are strong enough so that, as in all good fiction, we suspend our disbelief.
The adventure begins when Hannah is hired to examine the Silent Thunder. Once the pride of the Soviet submarine fleet, Silent Thunder has been acquired by a museum in Boston, and Hannah’s job is to make sure that every inch is safe for the public. She and her brother, Connor, set about checking out the sub and discover some mysterious plates with incomprehensible signals etched in. Could they be important? An explosion on the ship that causes Connor’s death answers that question. The plates are important to any number of people. But why? What do they mean? Connor’s wife, Cathy, was a player in Washington, and she’s still well connected. Cathy and Hannah determine to avenge Connor’s death, but finding the responsible party means getting involved with a variety of shady characters.
Pavski, a crazed Czech determined to find the fabled Golden Cradle, apparently believes that the plates hold the secret to its location. Kirov, a mysterious Soviet who faked his own death (or did he?), wants to get his hands on Pavski for his own reasons and isn’t above using Hannah as bait. Bradworth, who works for the CIA, also wants Pavski and isn’t very free with information, leaving Hannah and Cathy wary of trusting him.
To Pavski and Kirov, Hannah is more afterthought than protagonist; she will serve her purpose, and what happens to her doesn’t matter. To Hannah, finding the secret of the plates, and making Pavski accountable for her brother’s death, are paramount. Trying to decipher the code on the plates is risky and complicated, involving a brilliant Soviet mathematician, a working knowledge of Greek mythology, a smuggler with precious few scruples, a master bomb maker with even fewer, and a dangerous jaunt around the Czech Republic for Eugenia.
Everybody is trying to stay one step ahead of the other; a mistake can, and for some does, mean death. Eventually, even Connor and Cathy’s children face the threat of death as an increasingly desperate Pavski pulls out all the stops.
And SILENT THUNDER does pull out all the stops until a conclusion in which some are damned and others are redeemed.
Reviewed by Pat Morris on January 23, 2011