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The Rio Affair

Special Agent Miles Ronan has a secret: his father is on the FBI’s Most Wanted List. When Miles is called to Brazil he hasn’t seen his father in years. But there he is, the body on the Rio de Janeiro morgue slab was once clearly Frank Ronan - the infamous LAPD detective who thirty years ago stole $50M in cartel cash and abandoned his son and country. Miles is relieved to finally close this chapter of his life. But then, the coroner reveals that his father has a teenage daughter -- and she’s disappeared. Now in order to save the only family he has left, Miles must unravel his father’s fugitive past and solve the dark mystery of his stolen millions. A mission that forces him to defy both the U.S. Consulate and the local police… and become a fugitive himself. From the seductive chaos of Rio de Janeiro to the palm tree wilds of Bahia to the skyscrapers of Sao Paulo to the stunning islands of Angra - THE RIO AFFAIR is an edge of your seat thrill ride straight into the dark, exotic heart of Brazil.

In his work as an FBI Hostage Negotiator, Miles Ronan has never been to Brazil until his estranged father, wanted by the FBI for stealing $50 million, dies, with both the remainder of his fortune and his daughter, Leticia, missing. Miles might not want the money, but everyone from the corrupt mayor of Rio to a would-be Ubermensch does, and they’re willing to kill his sister to get it. With a billion dollars in Bitcoin in play and the FBI disengaged, Miles’s only allies are a former telenovela star and a BOPE officer, and they’re going to need more than a little luck to save Leticia before it’s too late.

Rarely is verisimilitude a grounding principle of thrillers, but Barnett’s commitment to telling a believable story brings welcome urgency to The Rio Affair’s spectacle of gunfights, bank robberies, and fraught psychological torture. The descriptions of Brazil are evocative and the cast’s skills are well-matched to every new plot twist, from hostage negotiation, high-stakes surfing or exposing corrupt politicians. This groundedness benefits the book, but struggles to maintain suspension of disbelief when the villain’s sordid family history of Nazi ideology, Mossad assassinations, and slavery in 20th century Brazil crosses paths with more standard corrupt politicians.

With snappy dialogue, a complex plot, and more focus on character relations than material gain or grand-scale destruction, The Rio Affair avoids the unbelievably over-the-top stakes that plague the genre without skimping on the action. Even when the story gets wild, with explosions and Nazi brainwashing, Barnett’s down-to-earth Agent Ronan is sensible enough to crack jokes at the absurdity around him without ever letting go of his one driving goal: to save his sister.

Takeaway: This explosive thriller never loses sight of real life.

Comparable Titles: Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza’s Inspector Espinosa mysteries, Mike Faricy’s Dev Haskell: Private Investigator series.

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

The Bottom Line: An irresistible debut crime thriller from a promising new voice. Highly recommended. 

As FBI Special Agent Miles Ronan arrives in Brazil to identify his father’s body, he also hopes to close a dark chapter that has haunted him since he was a boy. Ironic is one way to describe the estranged relationship between Frank Ronan, one of the world’s most wanted criminals, and his son, who has presumably devoted his life to enforcing the law. Miles hopes this is the end of a personal tragedy. Little does he know it will be the beginning of an entirely new path. 

Once in Brazil, Miles meets with the local coroner and, rather callously, arranges to have his father cremated. Just as he’s about to leave, the coroner drops a bombshell: Frank had a teenage daughter. But for Miles, meeting Leticia, the sister he never knew, will have to wait. She has disappeared, and it’s up to Miles, who specializes in hostage rescue, to get her back. Along the way, he’ll uncover long-buried secrets that include Nazis, the Mossad and more.

Author Micah Barnett’s narrative alternates between first and third person points of view. Those told in Miles’ voice are particularly compelling. As a character, Miles is constantly filled with both raw emotion and innate curiosity. The timelessness of Miles’ desire to understand his roots and connect with family make for an extremely engrossing debut. But is he fully reliable? Readers can look forward to a bombshell near the end of the book that adds a completely new perspective to his story.

Barnett possesses a special flair for creating a fully believable world, both in Brazil and elsewhere, in which nothing can be taken at face value. Every identity is suspect, every image must be examined for authenticity, and legacies of fraud go back generations. Let’s hope Barnett is already working on his next novel.