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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

7 Grams of Lead by Keith Thomson

Anchor, 464 pages, $7.99

Keith Thomson’s “Once a Spy” was one of Murder by the Book’s favorites for the year it was released. The book had engaging characters (a former spy who had Alzheimer’s and his wastrel, genius son), interesting bits of spycraft (when the former spy could remember them), and the best kind of on-the-run storytelling. “7 Grams of Lead” has the spycraft on steroids, two fairly tempting characters, and a James Bond-brand of villain. “7 Grams of Lead” is the supersized version of “Once a Spy.”

The charm of “Once a Spy” was abundantly evident in Charlie and Drummond Clark, father and son, initially both appearing within the normal range of human behavior. Of course, each had hidden talents, but they popped up unexpectedly and sometimes hilariously. In “7 Grams of Lead,” Russ Thornton is an online muck-raking journalist. He has learned the darndest things while cruising the web for stories. Beryl Mallery is a political candidate and computer genius. While these characters don’t scream “take-me-to-your-bosom” immediately, they prove, like Charlie and Drummond, to have strange talents and a fund of weird (but ultimately useful) information. So, bottom line: Charlie and Drummond win, Russ and Beryl definitely second.

In his acknowledgements, Keith Thomson refers to the original manuscript of “7 Grams.” He thanks his editor for cutting down the material. The remaining material is plenty large at 464 pages. It’s packed with the tangled skeins of all the various sub rosa and “super rosa” spy and security agencies. There are all the tricks of the game: infiltrating, breaking in, covering the bases, formulating Plans A, B, C, and defending oneself with everyday objects. I found it all fascinating, but there was a lot of it and it sometimes waylaid the plot.

The plot. One of Russ’s ex-girlfriends, a high-level political assistant in D.C., is bringing him devastating information, but, of course, she is murdered. What was the information? Who is behind her killing? There’s also a super e-bomb (strong electromagnetic pulses that disable everything electronic) being hawked, a shadowy mastermind who has a lot of political pull, implanted devices that put Big Brother to shame, and illegal holding facilities, torture, and general mayhem.

There is something genuine and sweet about the Charlie and Drummond books that’s missing here. But Keith Thomson is a great idea-man, and this book will make one heck of a movie!

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