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THE RED ROOM
by Ridley Pearson
Putnam, June 2014
399 pages
$26.95
ISBN: 0399163743


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

The latest in Ridley Pearson's Rutherford Risk series featuring partners John Knox and Grace Chu is a riveting tale of a black ops gone wrong. In this case, Knox and Chu's boss appears to have gone rogue and will only provide the two agents with the barest of details about their assignment. The rest is NTK (need to know) only, which means they are largely left in the dark, with only their own wits to guide them in a very dangerous terrain.

The "red room" of the title is the secure location at Rutherford Risk where the two agents are (barely) briefed on their assignment. However, this initial meeting will figure into the plot later in the novel.

The assignment is to sell an ancient Greek artwork long thought to have disappeared (but now resurfaced) to an Iranian via his brother, with whom John Knox has had some prior art dealings, albeit on a much smaller scale. Knox and Chu are told that all they must do is get alone with the target for five minutes via the sale.

Although Knox has been promised that he is not part of any assassination attempt, the buyer for the artwork turns out to be a high-level nuclear scientist. The job has been portrayed as an "in and out" job with a high payout. However, as soon as the two Risk agents enter Istanbul (and earlier in Jordan, where Knox picks up the ancient artifact), danger lurks around every corner.

When Grace Chu, every bit Knox's equal (although in different ways), starts digging into the back story (something her boss suggests she forget), things get dicey. It turns out that there are many more players, all heavily armed and all with different agendas, watching this sale and the buyer in question. It's all very cloak and dagger until the novel's end, and the last chapter provides a real kicker.

While the level of violence may make readers question whether Knox could have survived this assignment, the rest of the tale holds together well, with several parts of the storyline providing a real adrenalin rush. The action and intrigue are non-stop as the story builds to its climax, and Chu and Knox are engaging, likable characters. Pearson has done a fine job of balancing the mystery and the political, the planned and the surprise. It's a well rounded mystery that will have readers on the edge of their reading chairs as they try to piece together the puzzle that is THE RED ROOM.

Christine Zibas is a freelance writer and former director of publications for a Chicago nonprofit.

Reviewed by Christine Zibas, June 2014

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