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Onyx reviews: The Color of Night by David Lindsey

Austin-based author David Lindsey has used the familiar streets of Houston as the backdrop for many of his early books, including Mercy which brought him to national attention. More recently he has traveled further afield for his settings, although Houston appears at some point in virtually all of his previous nine novels.

In The Color of Night, Lindsey is again moving into new territory, entering the land of Robert Ludlum and Tom Clancy with a thriller set on the international stage. True to form, Lindsey starts out in Houston, where pivotal scenes take place in the museum district and around Hobby airfield. Lindsey soon takes the story abroad to Venice, London, Paris and Zurich in this tale of espionage and complex sting operations amid the world of art dealers and retired spies.

Central to everything is Harry Strand, former Foreign Intelligence Agent, who is trying to start a new life after his retirement from service and the death of his wife in an automobile accident. His agency cover had introduced him to the art world and he has used his contacts and expertise for his new 'civilian' profession. He has absolutely no contact with any of his former colleagues. However, Strand discovers that it is not so easy to leave the espionage game behind. There is too much unfinished business. Too many figures from the past are unwilling to stay in the shadows.

Strand becomes interested in a new customer who has approached him to sell a set of valuable drawings by modern masters. The exotic Mara Song, who he had first encountered while swimming at a private River Oaks club, accompanies Strand to Europe on a buying excursion. While staying at her home in Rome, Strand discovers a shocking video tape which reveals a crucial incident from his past in an entirely new light. He then learns that several of his former co-conspirators have recently suffered gruesome, violent deaths. Strand knows who the mastermind behind this sudden flurry of activity is. He knows that his adversary will not stop until Strand has fully repaid a past debt.

The only way to defend himself is to go on the attack. Strand finds himself completely embroiled in the world that he thought he was leaving behind. Mara Song becomes entangled in the complicated web, unable to separate the Harry Strand she is falling in love with from the Harry Strand who is wrapped up in deadly pursuits.

The action is fast and furious, and the plot twists and surprises are doled out generously throughout the novel. Strand is a typically Ludlumesque leading man, generally well in control of the situation, although he seems to rely on good fortune rather than clever behavior to get through many of his ordeals and crises. At times, he seems almost too simplistic to be believable as a veteran of espionage. He has none of the high-tech gadgetry which spy work in the late 1990's would seem to demand. No bug sweeping gadgets, sophisticated jamming devices or weaponry. His only nod to the era is his heavy reliance on encrypted e-mail as a method of communicating with allies and adversaries alike. The reader may be tempted to watch Strand's back for him in situations where the hero seems oblivious to the potential risks.

Still, the adventures of Harry Strand sweep the reader along to a taut and nerve-wracking confrontation in London, as several threads of Strand's past hurtle towards each other and one cataclysmic encounter which will keep the reader up late at night, at the edge of the seat.

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