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The Last Spymaster    by Gayle Lynds order for
Last Spymaster
by Gayle Lynds
Order:  USA  Can
St. Martin's, 2006 (2006)
Hardcover, Audio, CD

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* * *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

Gayle Lynds has been accorded the title of Queen of the International Spy Thriller. As in her 2005 bestseller, The Coil, she winds up the tension with panache in The Last Spymaster. Lynds takes readers from Germany into Switzerland and France, to Pennsylvania, Washington, North Carolina, Arizona's Sonoran Desert, and Virginia in a tale of espionage and intrigue, where 'Loneliness is the nature of being a spy.'

Back in time: the scene plays out on a dark, cold night in 1985 on the Bridge of Spies, between West Berlin and East Germany. 'The darkness seemed colder, more bitter, at Glienicker Brucke when a spy exchange was about to begin. Jay Tice shoved his hands deep into his topcoat pockets in a futile attempt to warm them'. The swap involves a twenty-year old Muslim militant caught in an arms deal and a Jewish active human rights activist, jailed for nine years in the gulag. Stasi agent Raina Manhardt monitors the exchange from the German side.

In the present day: Charles Jay Tice is a spy's spy, a legend in Cold War espionage, 'the man of a thousand faces ... eyes ... wiles'. In 2002 Tice is arrested, found guilty of selling U.S. secrets, and imprisoned. Then he escapes from the tight maximum security of Allenwood Federal Correction Complex. A gold triangle-shaped pendant is a vital link between Tice and his olden days operation crew, and somewhere among that small group is a traitor to his own.

An employee of Milieu Software Company, Kristoph Maas, and his friend Gerhard Shautens exhilarate in the thrill of the Chaux de Mont, Switzerland ski slopes. A muffled sound is heard as Kristoph gasps and tumbles to his death. Kristoph is the son of Raina Manhardt and Jay Tice, from their secret affair of many years.

CIA special agent Elaine Cunningham lost her passion for her work after her husband died in Afghanistan. She's activated into an assignment as a hunter to quickly bring in Jay Tice, and to keep the escape from the public. Danger signs flash a conspiracy, targeted from the highest office. Lurking in the shadows are those with their own lethal agendas to destroy Tice - they will do anything to annihilate him - and anyone who gets in their way.

Wealthy mogul Martin Ghranditti, Mr. G, has many front companies, and plans negotiations with a new terrorist group. Mr. G deals in illegal weapons. He tells many, 'Never underestimate Tice'. His contraband includes StarDust submicrominiaturized computers, smaller than a grain of sand and fueled by tiny solar batteries, that 'talk to each other and transmit their intel to a central coordinating computer'; Retaliator, a tiny gun that can be carried on a key chain; Mirror-Me camouflage material that makes things seem transparent, and the Sky Sword, a 'fast as hell' shoulder-launched missile.

Lynds offers poignant thoughts through her characters, such as 'I stay because good-citizen backyard barbecuers ... lived lives of inestimable deceit. Because the politically ambitious wrap themselves in religion and use their gods' name to justify their personal lust for power. Because until peace drapes itself over this sorry old world, independent intelligence and analysis are critical'.

And as one professor in the novel says to his students, 'Zaharoff left an enduring legacy. He proved to the industry that the most practical means to maximize profit was to sell to all sides any way you could, because that bred conflict, and conflict led to war, and war meant increased demand for weapons ... Lying, inciting fear, and selling on credit are still basic principles followed by modern traffickers. Who can tell me which country produces the most weapons, and which country sells the most weapons, and which country makes the most profit from weapons today?'

Just when one cast member thinks he/she made the smartest move, another analyzes it and makes a smarter one. While the reader's eyes and mind are glued to the pages, the author inserts just enough teasers to give insights, without revealing who's doing what to whom. Lynds' writing style places the reader in the novel, as if watching over a character's shoulder. Besides her own novels including Masquerade, Mosaic, and Mesmerized, Lynds co-authored The Hades Factor, The Altman Code, and The Paris Option with Robert Ludlum.

One of my favorite lines in The Last Spymaster reads 'We found no unknown fingerprints. No hair, no billfolds, no matchbooks conveniently publicizing some bar or motel. Too bad real life isn't a TV show where the perfect clue is left behind.' I highly recommend Lynds' compelling thrillers of loyalty and betrayal, gain and loss in today's world of espionage.

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