By Andrew Kaplan
HarperCollins, May, 2013 ($9.99)
Reviewed by Sam Waas
A terrorist group invades the US embassy in Bern and massacres the entire staff. They appear to be sponsored by Iran and the American military and civilian leadership are both ready to retaliate with a massive raid. But questions arise. Were the clues that point to Iranian involvement planted to divert attention from the actual planners? Is there another agenda lurking, such as a careful plan to involve the US in unwarranted military excursions?
Top CIA operative Scorpion is asked to track down the truth before a raid is greenlighted. His search takes him to Switzerland, Spain, and eventually, Iran. Throughout, Scorpion is plagued by a shadowy antagonist, code name Scale (his moniker based on a deadly Middle Eastern serpent), who appears to be a match for all the cunning, bravado, and tradecraft that Scorpion can bring to the table. And behind Scale is another mastermind, The Gardener, who's calling the shots and even seems to be pulling at Scorpion's own strings.
The Scorpion series are among the finest of any modern "rough trade" spy novels. I'd rank Kaplan's Scorpion books equivalent to the late (and sorely missed) Vince Flynn's Mitch Rapp stories. And SCORPION DECEPTION is superb, likely the best yet.
New readers might be cautioned, as the book is quite violent and graphic. It's not at all like the more urbane and subdued style so prevalent in the John le Carré George Smiley stories, nor is it as parodic as 007. In Scorpion, you're often drenched in death, and it splatters. The novel however is not egregious in its depiction of violence, but is simply and patently realistic, no punches pulled. It's a gripping story, a true page-turner with a clever and intricate plot. Detail buffs will also appreciate that the Scorpion books are very accurate in depicting weapons as well as unarmed combat. No revolvers with safeties here.
SCORPION DECEPTION also provides a fascinating glimpse into each culture, where we're exposed to rough and common slang in languages as diverse as Farsi and Catalan. We also see a careful and detailed description of each nation's cities, countryside, and lifestyles. This can be overdone (as I thought in previous Scorpion novels), where the author's goal of authenticity became bogged down in what I call Travelogue Trauma, where each road, each intersection, each curbstone, each leaf of every tree needs to be described in mind-numbing detail. Thankfully this has been given a lighter touch, and we therefore are given the necessary background yet are still carried along within the fast-paced narrative. SCORPION DECEPTION is a first rate modern adult spy thriller.
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