The Lazarus Trap
Waking up in a cold, stark jail cell, a bruised and battered man has no memory of what landed him where he is. What's more, he has no memory of who he is. An officer enlightens him: the identification found on his person purports him to be one Jeffrey Adams of Des Moines, Iowa, now in the Big Apple and accused of stirring up trouble in one of its watering holes the night before. Jeffrey Adams? Des Moines? Nothing sounds familiar to this alleged barroom brawler.
Soon enough "Jeffrey" discovers his true identity: Valentine Haines. The late Valentine Haines, in fact, presumed dead in an early morning explosion that rocked the midtown offices of Syntec Bank, where Val was scheduled to attend a breakfast meeting with a colleague and several bank officials. As his memory begins to return, Val suspects that the explosion was no accident and that he's better off laying low and playing dead until he figures out why his name was included on the Syntec hit list. In reality, he does know; he's now the only person alive who can bring down Insignia, the Orlando-based company he works for, by exposing a $422 million scam designed to leave its investors and employees with nothing while making a few people very, very wealthy.
Throughout the book, it's clear that two top officials of Insignia, Terrance D'Arcy and Don Winslow, are the bad guys, or rather, two of the bad guys. What's not so clear is whether Val --- whom I never got a solid handle on, by the way --- is a good guy or just another bad guy in disguise. Eventually, that all gets sorted out, but the slow unraveling of Val's involvement in the embezzlement scheme is one of the book's strong points. How T. Davis Bunn managed to combine the gradual unfolding of a key plot element like that with a fast-paced, supercharged story is beyond me, but that's exactly what he did. The action travels at breathtaking speed between Orlando, New York, and the isle of Jersey off the coast of England, making for a truly suspenseful read.
The book does have its problems, though. When Val hacks into his old email account --- disabled by his Insignia foes --- he discovers a message from a woman named Audrey who is apparently a romantic interest but somehow also connected to Insignia. That connection is later clarified, but whatever relationship Val and Audrey had in the past remains murky right to the end, even after their attraction to each other is rekindled. And then there are nagging questions about that night in the bar when Val/Jeffrey ended up in jail; Bunn gives no clue as to what happened --- why Val was there, what precipitated the fight, or how the unexplained and huge wad of cash he had in his pocket survived a run-in with drunken thugs.
If dangling plot points and unanswered questions don't bother you all that much --- if the main storyline is all you're after --- then THE LAZARUS TRAP should prove to be a satisfying read. It's definitely a winner for fans of suspense.
Reviewed by Marcia Ford on April 11, 2006