12 Drummers Drumming
(Paperback), ISBN: 0380795949
A veteran U.S. State Department employee, author Deverell puts her professional expertise to good use, creating a believable portrayal of international espionage and counterterrorism that provides one of the book's strong points. Another plus is the roller coaster plot, with enough ups and downs, twists and turns, crosses and doublecrosses to keep the most devious reader from guessing exactly where it will end up.
Perhaps wisely, Deverell doesn't attempt the dense, measured narrative structure favored by the genre's other professional, John LeCarre. Instead, 12 Drummers Drumming has both the strengths and shortcomings of an arcade game in which the best ploy for survival is to take nothing for granted, shoot everything you see, and always keep moving. On those infrequent occasions when the action slows down enough for the characters to take a breath, the reader begins finding tiny plot holes or, more likely, feels the urge to kick Casey Collins.
Deverell paints a world in which everyone, even the heroine, comes in shades of gray, so it's probably a minor quibble that I occasionally found the protagonist irritating. She's supposed to be a masterful intelligence analyst, but Collins seems to operate more from emotion than logic. And Stefan -- more McGuffin than character -- never seems compelling enough to justify all that emotion.
For my money, Casey can keep Stefan. I was rooting for the survival of Bert, the sixty-something, alcoholic, Flemish bartender with the flair for over-spiced Congolese cuisine. Perhaps that's because Deverell let us meet and get to know Bert and the other secondary characters for ourselves, while we see Stefan first and foremost through Casey's intensely emotional point of view. Stefan would have to be better than Rhett Butler, Indiana Jones and James Bond rolled into one to live up to his advance publicity.
That quibble aside, if you're an espionage junkie who closes each new LeCarre with a sigh of mingled satisfaction with the book and depression that there won't be another till next year, you could do much worse than 12 Drummers Drumming for your next fix. And if you love spy tales but find LeCarre's style too deliberate for your taste, Deverell can probably deliver just what you're looking for. Just don't pick this one up for in-flight reading, except to give to an enemy you really want to see having hysterics in the middle of a transatlantic flight.
Donna Andrews is the author of Murder with Peacocks, which won the St. Martin's Press/Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery Award in May 1998.
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