The Fourth Courier by Timothy Jay Smith
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
”He’d walked enough of Warsaw’s gray streets and grim underground passages, glancing at the faces of passersby--each a map of a wounded country--and wondered if what he considered his rebelliousness, bred in America’s suburban comfort, could have survived what they had endured. Or would he have resigned himself to the half-empty glass of their existence?”
FBI Agent James ‘Jay’ Porter has been dispatched to Warsaw, Poland, to find out why dead men keep appearing on the river bank, each with the knob of a sixth finger and hands that light up a geiger counter like the fireworks celebrating Wianki.
This is 1992, and the Soviet Union has very recently imploded. The major concern that the US and their allies have after this collapse is, how secure is the massive stockpiles of nuclear material the Russians developed during the Cold War? The rush to embrace capitalism in Russia has consolidated the economy into the hands of the few who are strong enough to control it. In other words, Russia has become a Mafia state where everything is for sale. What better way to make a few million dollars quick than to smuggle some of this nuclear material to somebody with the ambition to use it, or threaten to use it, to leverage his way to power?
That person turns out to be General Drako Mladic, the head of Yugoslavia Secret Services, who dreams of the power that owning the most dangerous weapon ever created will bring him. He has made contact with a Russian scientist, Dr. Sergej Ustinov, who has developed a portable nuclear bomb. He also has a long term relationship with the Director of Organized Crime, Basia Husarska, in his pocket and, when he requires it, in his bed. He feels Poland is the perfect place to make the exchange for what he wants. He just needs to get Ustinov and Husarska together.
Husarska is a classic femme fatale. ”Her fur coat hung open to reveal long legs sheathed by black stockings. She looked as glossy and sexy as if she’d stepped off the page of one of his girlie magazines. Dravko had sent that black-clad angel of seduction for him. Sergej raised a hand and feebly waved.” She knows there is no better time to score big than when a country is in flux while it is struggling to discover a new identity. She is willing to do anything to escape Poland, as long as she can figure out a way to leave with enough money to live in the style she wishes to become accustomed to. Time is short, and her desperation is forcing her to take more and more chances that will either land her in prison for the rest of her life, get her dead, or fly her away to an island escape.
Mladic is a complicated, conflicted man, who wants to be with men but loathes his own desires.“He could masquerade for others, but Basia had known him for too long. When the stunts he wanted her to perform turned demeaning, she recognized it for what it was: degradation of women as permission to desire men.” CIA agent Kurt Crawford knows perfectly how to handle Mladic. Crawford is black, gay, lethal, and built like a Greek God. He is willing to do anything it takes to keep Mladic from acquiring what he wants.
This is a tale of double-crosses within double-crosses, seasoned with a healthy mix of murder. There are dead couriers, with slashed faces, and more to join them, as a diabolic plan starts to unravel. Porter and Crawford may be one step ahead of the game, but with each new revelation, the board flips from Monopoly to Clue to Risk. Will they lose on one of the last major moves of the Cold War, leaving the world in a permanent state of jeopardy at the hands of an ambitious, ruthless man?
Timothy Jay Smith perfectly captures the gloomy, atmospheric uncertainty of Poland in the upheaval of the 1990s. Opportunities, unique possibilities, and even dreams are opening up for the Polish people for the first time in more than a generation. Smith’s depiction of his amoral characters are fully developed, fully fleshed creatures, who force people of principle to change the rules of engagement if they have any hopes of stopping them. While reading this book, I was able to relive my own anxieties from the 1990s, when I, too, was worried about the dissolution of the Soviet Union and what that meant to the security of their nuclear arsenal. I was in particular reminded of the nightmare events of the 1997 movie The Peacemaker, starring George Clooney and Nicole Kidman.
Just before Timothy Jay Smith got in touch with me about reading his book, I’d just watched the strange, ambiguous, very unsettling movie Dark Crimes (2018 release in the US), starring Jim Carrey, which is based off a true story by David Grann. This movie depicts a Poland still suspended in a distant past, with many people worried about an uncertain future, and the effects the “perversities of freedom,” sex, drugs, and outside culture, would have on the emerging, new Poland.
Need a great thriller? Look no further. Smith delivers.
I want to thank Timothy Jay Smith and Arcade Publishing for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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