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Onyx reviews: The Spy Who Came for
Christmas by David Morrell
The Spy Who Came for Christmas is packaged in an attractive, small
format with an eye-catching design that would be at home on an inspirational
book, save for the reflection of a hand clutching a pistol in the Christmas tree
ornament that graces the cover. Within a few pages, readers will realize this
isn't a charming, light-hearted seasonal romp.
It's Christmas Eve in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The Canyon Road district has been
blocked off from traffic as part of an annual tradition that turns the
neighborhood into a holiday attraction that brings people in from across the
country. Morrell disseminates information about the city and its traditions
through overheard conversations as the protagonist makes his way through the
Paul Kagan, the sun of Russian defectors who was conscripted to become an
undercover agent, has infiltrated the Russian mob. Unlike most other criminal
organizations, the Russians don't care who they work for. Their client list
reads like a who's who of foreign hostiles, including Hamas and Al Qaeda.
Maintaining his cover has required Kagan to do things that prey on his
conscience. Every time he asks his handlers to release him from this duty,
though, another serious threat to U.S. soil comes along. He feels like he is
losing his soul one assignment at a time.
When the book opens, Kagan is hiding a Glock and a special
"package" under his coat as he navigates the crowded and festive Santa
Fe streets. He is wounded and bleeding. He lost his cell phone during his daring
escape from his three Russian "colleagues," but still has the earpiece
and transmitter that allows him to communicate with them, and vice versa.
Goaded on by their boss, the Pakhan, the other Russians are in hot pursuit,
led by Andrei, who has become of close friend of Kagan's. Each man knows how the
other thinks, so their cat-and-mouse game through the crowded streets is a
battle of wits. Losing strength because of his bullet wound, Kagan needs a place
to hide with his precious package. He randomly chooses a house, unaware that he
is stepping into a family drama involving an abused mother, alcoholic father and
Cole, their vulnerable, handicapped son.
The novel takes place over the course of several hours, as Kagan prepares for
the inevitable confrontation with his former allies while trying to alleviate
the concerns of the family whose home he invaded. After rigging the house with
impromptu booby traps, Kagan has time to calm Cole. In an attempt to explain the
nature of his work, Kagan retells the Christmas story, populating it with double
agents and conspiracies. The Magi, he says, were actually Persian spies who
wanted to destabilize Herrod's government, thereby causing it to collapse from
within, rather than challenging the Roman Empire directly.
"The Spy Who Came for Christmas" is not much of a departure for
thriller writer Morrell, a resident of Santa Fe. It's a fast-paced and
entertaining read that takes full advantage of Morrell's intimate knowledge of
Santa Fe and his research into such diverse subjects as how to feed a newborn
without milk and how to turn a microwave oven into an explosive device. Without
being too heavy handed about it, Morrell also manages to tell a story
appropriate to the season with a message of hope for humanity.
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