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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Twice a Spy, by Keith Thomson ($7.99)

When we last saw Drummond and Charlie Clark in Once a Spy, the father and son duo were being chased by every conceivable governmental law enforcement agency for being terrorists and killing a CIA agent. They were being helped by Alice Rutherford, an agent who believed in their innocence. (No, they aren't terrorists, and yes, they are innocent.)

As the current story opens, Drummond is in Switzerland, receiving experimental medical treatment for his Alzheimer's. There's nothing worse than a spy with Alzheimer's. Secrets rattle around in his head, sometimes occluded and at other times vivid and helpful. He is one of the few people around who can find and arm the washing machine bombs he helped to create. If it's one of Drummond's fuzzy moments, the going is tough. However, Drummond has enough lucid flashes that he and Charlie find themselves hunting for one of the bombs to exchange for Alice who has been kidnapped by real terrorists.

The bomb, however, isn't what it's cracked up to be. On purpose, Drummond, as a CIA agent, created dummy nuclear bombs to sell to terrorists, who would then be caught. Unfortunately, the bombs really have enough detonation material to cause a big blast -- just not a nuclear one -- so they are still deadly.

Because this is a spy story, not every (alleged) good guy is on the up-and-up. There are plot and character twists, James Bond-like action and coincidence, and sly winks on the side. There is also a moving depiction of a father and son who were estranged for a long time and are now trying to reconnect. Before Charlie discovered he was a spy, Drummond appeared to be an appliance salesman, and a very distant and cold father. Charlie for his part was a man who wasted his talents, a mathematical genius who threw his money away at the racetrack and was in serious danger of throwing his life away as well.

Keith Thomson describes Drummond's ordeal with sensitivity. He also shows restraint in portraying Drummond's senescence. In lesser hands Drummond's is-he-or-isn't-he state would be clumsily drawn and made dully repetitive. Instead there's an elegance to Drummond's oscillation between lucidity and befuddlement.

It is to Thomson's credit that he can successfully mix an over-the-top spy adventure with humor -- a washing machine nuclear bomb! -- and a tender father-and-son story.

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