The Venetian Judgment
David Stone is my primary “cross the street” author.
People who know me cross the street when they see me coming because
I will probably begin and end the conversation by telling them
about the new David Stone book, or his last one, or all of them.
Instead of crossing the street, they should listen. Stone is the
real deal. Even if that is not his real name.
David Stone has three novels to his credit under that name ---
THE ECHELON VENDETTA, THE ORPHEUS DECEPTION, and the newly released
THE VENETIAN JUDGMENT --- and combined they would make one long,
wild, 1,200-page book that would read as fast as a 20-page short
story. They feature a CIA cleaner named Micah Dalton, who is not in
the best graces of his agency due to a penchant that compels him to
pursue a course of conduct that more often than not goes against
orders but results in his usually getting the job done better than
anyone else. While complete in itself, each volume also picks up
immediately from where the last left off.
So it is that THE VENETIAN JUDGMENT begins with Dalton in Venice
pursuing a bloody vengeance against the Serbian gang of thugs who
shot and grievously wounded his lover in THE ORPHEUS DECEPTION.
Quickly finding himself to be persona non grata for
turning the romantic city into his own personal killing field,
Dalton is handed a golden opportunity to keep his hands busy and
happy while possibly putting himself back into the good graces of
his erstwhile employer.
A small group of CIA employees known as the Glass Cutters
specializes in decryption. While working on a top secret project
that involves Deacon Cather, Dalton’s erstwhile mentor, one
of their London members is brutally murdered after being subjected
to unspeakable tortures. Worse, photographic documentation of the
act was emailed to her friends, family and employer. The killing
appears to be the work of Kiki Lujac, an exotic fiend who had been
left for dead by Dalton in a previous encounter.
Accompanied by fellow agent Mandy Pownell, Dalton begins his
quest by attempting to determine if Lujac is in fact deceased.
Their inquiry kicks over a hornet’s nest that results in
Dalton and Pownell pursuing, and being pursued by, a shadowy group
of murderers with ties to the former KGB. The ghost of Porter
Naumann, Dalton’s friend and Pownell’s lover, is along
for the ride as well, popping up at times opportune and otherwise,
and dispensing advice to Dalton. An aside here: Stone handles the
existence of this shade incredibly well. In lesser hands, the
appearance of a ghost in the middle of a narrative would be silly;
in Stone’s capable hands, the occurrences are Shakespearean
in quality. He even provides an almost-plausible explanation, made
more so by the fact that the shade never appears to anyone else,
What Naumann does not reveal, however, is that Lujac has managed
to insinuate himself into the life of Briony Keating, another Glass
Cutter. Keating, a very capable 62-year-old New York divorcee with
a voracious sexual appetite, is quite taken with Lujac, even as she
senses that all is not right with him. For his part, Lujac is
feeding Keating’s appetite and biding his time for the moment
when he can treat himself to a repeat performance of his actions in
London. The suspense, to say the least, is heart-stopping, with the
storyline cutting back and forth between Dalton and Pownell
escaping the jaws of death and Keating seemingly jumping
wholeheartedly into them. There are a number of endings that wrap
(almost) everything up, leaving just enough threads for yet another
Stone is a marvel. Possessed with a canny sense of how the world
works and a historical view that hasn’t been distorted by the
talking heads, he pulls back the curtain and reveals the hidden
history of the last 60 years while never once losing the sense of
his narrative. You will want to read this one twice. At least.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 24, 2011