- - Tuesday, January 17, 2017



By M.A. Lawson

Blue Rider Press, $28, 304 pages

K Street in Washington D.C. is considered a haven for lobbyists, lawyers and doctors, but in this bullet-riddled thriller, it could be the setting for the gunfight at the OK Corral.

The book is launched with a massacre of members of the Callahan Group, which is a covert intelligence outfit that funnels dubious money to dubious places. Some of the shooting is done by a former employee of Callahan, a tall, glamorous and gun-toting blond called Kay Hammon who already has nine notches on her gun and clearly is prepared to make any needed use of the weapon. To say the book begins with a bang is putting it mildly. By Page 18 the quiet office on K Street is littered with the dead and dying.

Kay who is also a former member of the DEA, does call an ambulance to rescue the remains of Callahan but otherwise not only keeps her cool but plunges into an investigation of her own that turns out to involve other women as tough as she is. She figures out that she has interrupted a break-in at the Callahan offices where the target is the safe, and that briefly puzzles her because there isn’t usually much money in it — which means there is something more valuable in it. The plot swings to the involvement of the highly secretive NSA and pivots on a group of charming but cold-blooded women. Like Mary Platt, a D.C. detective who reminds Kay of “a girl who used play on her high school soccer team.” She is not about to reveal to Platt that Callahan is a covert group that is engaged when the U.S. government doesn’t want to deploy legitimate agencies.

It tells you all you need to know about Kay that before she embarks on an investigation she needs a bigger gun, “She had a little .32 she could use in an ankle holster but it was only accurate at very close range and doesn’t have the kind of stopping power she wants.” But she knows what to do and where to go, which is to a neighbor Eloise, who used to work for the Secret Service and is familiar with guns. She and Kay are both happy with Berettas.

And then there is Olivia Prescott, a member of the NSA who fits Kay’s concept of “a cranky spinster librarian who dyes her hair platinum.” She provides Kay with useful information about one Sally Ann Danziger, who is one of the victims of the K Street shootings and who seems to have died because she was in possession of a sinister email linked to a submarine solar system, which is top secret and is involved in solar technology. Kay doesn’t understand it and doesn’t need to. The fact that the NSA is involved in it is what matters. And if the reader is not already struggling to cope with a wicked crowd of women, there is Lin Ma, who works for the Chinese government, which is high risk in any terms. It is especially dangerous since she is working with a Chinese agent called Fang who lives up to the impression given by his name and is dangerous, indeed. As poor Lin Ma finds out as she tries to escape to Beijing where a dubious welcome awaits her.

Romance is missing in this thriller apart from an afternoon off when Kay indulges in sex with her wealthy lover but never permits her love life to interfere with her work. Lying to her lover is part of the job and Kay loves her work. The author has created a character who is engaging, fast-talking and the kind of woman any good spy agency would snap up. And she would be willing to be snapped up as long as they gave her a gun with enough stopping power. It’s good, grisly fun.

Muriel Dobbin is a former White House and national political reporter for McClatchy newspapers and the Baltimore Sun.

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