BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Bricklayer’

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By Noah Boyd

William Morrow, $24.99, 390 pages


After FBI Special Agent Paul Lindsay published his first novel, “Witness to the Truth,” in 1992, his bosses began to think of him as a renegade. And it didn’t help his career when, the next year, he was quoted in Vanity Fair impugning the character of FBI Director William Sessions. Now retired and the author of six previous novels, Mr. Lindsay has written his latest thriller under the alias Noah Boyd.

The bricklayer of the title is Steve Vail, a former special agent who resigned rather than rat out a colleague. It didn’t matter that the colleague was himself a rat: Steve Vail is one of those Adamic American anti-heroes who live by their own moral code, don’t play well with others, have abrasive personalities and a well-defined set of values that don’t necessarily jibe with the go-along-to-get-along Weltanschauung common to most bureaucracies, federal and otherwise.

And since the alias dictum, Mr. Boyd’s real-life Department of Justice experience has given him a lot of fodder when it comes to federal bureaucracies; he skewers the FBI’s all too often turgid and careerist management upper echelons with well-aimed bolt after bolt.

When Deputy Assistant Director Kate Bannon, herself something of a maverick, is asked by the Bureau’s director, Bob Lasker, about the method by which she picked a crew of G-men to work a particularly sensitive case, she tells him matter-of-factly, “I went purely for obedience. … I wanted agents who above all else could keep their mouths shut.”

“In today’s bureau? Please tell me how to accomplish that.”

Indeed, Mr. Boyd’s fictional director is fully aware that when it comes to leaks, the real-world FBI is just as sievelike as the real world Congress.

DAD Bannon’s solution: “I picked only the most serious climbers.”

“Climbers” was a term street agents used to stereotype the most serious promotion seekers. “I told them if they did a good job their name would be put on the priority list, but if this leaked out in any fashion whether it was their doing or not, they’d seen their last promotion.” (Note to Sens. Leahy, Rockefeller and Reid, and Rep. Waxman: Try this tactic with your staffs.)

The sensitive case DAD Bannon is working on entails multiple murders, extortion and a crew of nasty and very well-informed malefactors. Indeed, the bad guys stay way ahead of the Feds … until Ms. Bannon convinces Steve Vail, who is living in Chicago and working as a bricklayer, a trade he learned from his father, to come back and take the case on.

As Mr. Boyd has drawn him, Steve Vail is everything an FBI special agent should be, and more: diligent, hardworking, fast on his feet, a masterful tactical thinker, a warrior’s warrior and a perfect human specimen who can deflect the advances of a luscious assistant U.S. Attorney with poise and grace. He is a dogged investigator who understands that it’s important to have friends in low places - like the ubiquitous FBI technician Tom Demick, invisible to the “suits” but an invaluable source of information and assistance when the chips are down.

He even knows just how to make local law enforcement love him. Indeed, all he has to do is ask and cops not only cooperate with this exceptional G-man, they do it happily. They even help him cut corners. Whoa - talk about suspension of disbelief. But then, Steve Vail just about always gets it right, whether he’s disarming a Claymore mine, luring a bad guy into doing something stupid or “playing” a bureaucrat deputy FBI director - finessing him out of the action by sending him on a wild goose chase.

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