Ward writes a fast-paced, cogent thriller, a tale of dirty agents and a missing $200,000, the arrest and release of a dangerous diamond smuggler, and the careful plans for vengeance of a deliberative killer. Jack Harper and Oscar Hidalgo are L.A. FBI agents finally wrapping up a long engagement that will put diamond smuggler Karl Steinback behind bars for a long time, where he belongs.
The ranks of regular FBI agents have been depleted by 9/11 and the creation of the department of Homeland Security, a great bureaucracy that cannibalizes local agencies. When an important bust goes down, Harper and Hidalgo are hampered by numbers, other field agents normally used for backup reassigned to DHS. The two agents go in alone, unwilling to let their suspect continue his mayhem.
Shots fly in a wild confrontation, but Harper and Hidalgo dominate, an angry Karl Steinback hollering that they will be sorry, his reach extends far beyond prison walls.
Celebrating later at their favorite pub, Charlie Breen’s Deckhouse, Jack and Oscar are proud of themselves if a bit disturbed by Karl’s threats. Within the next few days, when DHS interferes on Steinback’s behalf and two of their fellow agents die suspiciously, Jack and Oscar begin to wonder if the diamond smuggler has unleashed the hounds of hell on them in his thirst for revenge.
What follows is a cat-and-mouse game, where the agents must determine who is behind the murders - Karl, or the perpetrator of some older, less obvious vendetta. Oscar is skeptical, but Jack’s instincts are on high alert, in spite of his distraction. His teenaged son, Kevin, has been indulging in some risky behavior, and his girlfriend of eight months is tired of worrying about Jack and the rebellious Kevin.
The writing is as edgy and hard-bitten as the streets, the author’s television background evident in a fast-paced plot with crisp dialog, a classic thriller with interesting characters, flawed agents, evil villains, a killer who films his crimes, and the charged post-9/11 atmosphere of law enforcement vs. Homeland Security. There are plenty of surprises; bad decisions come back to haunt Harper years later, menace masquerading as friendship and the temptation of $200,000 that proves too strong for some to resist.
The author throws a lot of mud on the wall and some of it sticks. Whether these two savvy agents can figure out who is behind the killings before it’s their turn is another question. There are a few stretches, but over all this is a well-plotted thriller with enough surprises to keep it interesting. Although Harper is featured more than his partner, this is a joint effort and one worth reading.