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CIA’s most valued Russian double agents are being assassinated one-by-one. In Langley Center itself—Jack Barrett, the Director of Central Intelligence, barely escapes assassination. When the Agency discovers the attacks originate from a Russian top secret cyberwarfare program called Chernyy Almaz, or Black Diamond, CIA must respond swiftly to shut down the attacks and begin extracting its top prized agents before they’re lost forever. Chief among them is Dr. Armand Mishenkov, the head of Russia’s research and development for cold fusion weaponry. Pursued by Russian assassins and Spetsnaz teams, Agent Dave McClure must find Mishenkov and smuggle him across Europe and to the United States—but can they make it ALIVE?
This gripping and violent thriller follows American, Russian, and Israeli agents as they use their wits and weaponry in a worldwide fight over a defecting scientist in present-day Russia. A secret Russian program called "Black Diamond" is turning American agents into traitors and leading to the death of assets abroad. To counter this, the CIA sends crack agents Dave McClure and Tony Robertson to extract Dr. Armand Mishenkov, a physicist already attempting to make a solitary escape to the West. Russia dispatches its own team to catch Mishenkov, while Israelis are secretly protecting him. As each side becomes more desperate, the violence ratchets up.

Ceroni (Special Means)—who has a background in counterespionage and antiterrorism—is a master at crafting action scenes in all their bloody glory. In one fight, a "blow cracked across [his] throat, his esophagus splintering" followed by "blood and torn flesh burst out in a red spray." Other scenes are more high-tech but no less visceral, as when a thermate grenade chars flesh and scorches lungs. A car chase is beautifully staged, and a setpiece involving a hungry bear is not for the squeamish, and although the emphasis is mostly on action rather than character a scene in which an agent takes personal revenge is genuinely chilling. A few plot twists strain credulity, but the story zips along so swiftly, it scarcely matters.

Ceroni works in calmer incidents between the hostilities well, adding depth to the action-packed storyline. Before departing Russia, Mishenkov shares a warm moment with Yakov, an elderly friend. Yakov's moving act of sacrifice creates an effective counterpoint to the violence. Even McClure and Robertson’s break to discuss a few Hungarian delicacies in the same lavish prose as action scenes is refreshing—still, in every case, there's another fight around the corner. Aficionados of red-blooded actioners will eagerly follow McClure and Robertson's adventures until the hair-raising denouement.

Takeaway: Fans of fast-moving spy thrillers with sumptuously choreographed violence will not pause until the last page.

Great for fans of: Ian Fleming, Len Deighton.

Production grades
Cover: A-
Design and typography: A-
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: B
Marketing copy: B+