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Review: 'Blowback,' by real-life spy Plame, is fast-paced fun

That's Pierson, Vanessa Pierson. Chanel No. 005 to you, Bub.

In Blowback, the first fictional spy yarn from former covert CIA operative-turned-novelist Valerie Plame, readers once more are invited to follow the globe-trotting derring-do adventures of a brilliant, sexy, blond, sexy, renegade, sexy, femme fatale, sexy spy, hot (in more ways than one) on the trail of an evil-doing international arms dealer bent on helping the Iranians develop a nuclear weapon.

Where in heaven's name did the comely Plame come up with this character? Oh, did we mention she's sexy, too?

By now most of us are well aware of Plame's backstory. On a tip from the Cheney administration, her cover as a CIA covert operative was blown by the late Chicago Sun-Times columnist Robert Novak in retaliation against her diplomat husband, Joe Wilson, for openly disputing an assertion by George W. Bush that Saddam Hussein was getting yellowcake uranium from Niger to develop nuclear weapons.

Blowback is a fast-paced, fun read, the perfect airplane book to while away a couple of hours. Co-written by novelist Sarah Lovett, the story jumps from Vienna, to Cairo, to London, to New York, to Cyprus, to Washington, and yet none of the characters ever seem to go to sleep for more than a few minutes. By Page 320, the reader has jet lag, even if Vanessa Pierson barely yawns.

On the other hand, it is sort of hard to get a decent night's rest when so many bodies are dropping around our heroine. Slumber might just be fatal.

Pierson is in pursuit of a shadowy arms dealer named Bhoot, whom readers will readily recognize is a not-too-thinly-veiled version of real-life legendary Russian merchant of death Viktor Bout, who is currently serving a 25-year federal prison term ostensibly for being a really, really dangerous guy. (A variation of Bout was portrayed by Nicolas Cage in the 2005 film Lord of War.)

Bhoot is to Pierson what Blofeld was to James Bond, a sociopathic villain, always just within reach, yet never quite vanquished, living to terrorize another day.

In Blowback, Pierson has reason to believe Bhoot is about to show up somewhere in Iran for a big meeting to deliver the final elements required to build the bomb. Pierson knows this bit of detail because numerous intelligence assets (read: human sources) have told her so. But where? Iran is a big country.

Alas, it seems just as each one of her assets is on the very cusp of telling her more, they wind up getting assassinated by Bhoot's personal henchman, a wily Chechen named Pauk. And it takes to around Page 250 before Pierson gets just the merest of hints that Pauk may be interested in bumping her off, too. Oh well, intelligence work has its limits.

In the meantime, Pierson has problems back at the home office, since she is engaged in an illicit and forbidden romance with a co-worker, and the CIA is also a bit miffed over her pushing the agency's body bag budget through the roof.

Fans of the spy novel genre will quickly discover Blowback relies heavily on the influences of Ian Fleming, John le Carré, Tom Clancy and Robert Ludlum. Can we expect The Bonwit Teller Identity next in the Pierson saga? But if you are going to borrow spook tropes, why not from the best?

You don't need to be a literary agent to see that this book has "screen rights" written all over it, largely on the strength of the glamorous Plame's own real-life intelligence career.

But forgive a small nit to pick. You almost have to look twice at Blowback's dust jacket to find co-author Sarah Lovett's name. To be sure, a famous but inexperienced person joining up with a professional writer is nothing new in publishing. But Lovett in her own right is an established mystery novelist. Certainly she played a major role in crafting this book's pace, narrative and dialogue — elements which are sort of critical to penning a novel. Couldn't her billing have been just a tad bigger?

Blowback is just fun enough, engrossing enough to leave the reader awaiting the next Vanessa Pierson installment, if for nothing else than to see if the vile Bhoot ever gets his comeuppance — as well as answering this book's nagging question: Will the woman ever get a decent night's sleep?

Daniel Ruth can be reached at druth@tampabay.com.

Blowback

By Valerie Plame and Sarah Lovett

Blue Rider Press, 336 pages, $26.95

Review: 'Blowback,' by real-life spy Plame, is fast-paced fun 12/11/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 11, 2013 1:23pm]
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