Tuesday, February 17, 2009

THE THIRD ILLUSION by Harrison Arnston

David Baxter is a wanted man. He is a former CIA operative who, six years earlier, stopped a terrorist attack and in the process killed a man named Nadi Amur. Amur was the leader of a small Palestinian terrorist organization that will do anything to kill Baxter. David took an early retirement from the Agency and now lives a secluded life in a California mountain town. His new name is Jack Slade and no one but a select group knows where he went or even if he is still alive.

Baxter’s carefully planned life explodes when a wealthy businessman with political ambitions and a wayward daughter contacts him. He wants David to find his estranged daughter so he can make amends in a very public way. Baxter takes the job against his own better judgment and finds the girl in short order. Unfortunately the whole thing feels too easy, like he is being led down a carefully arranged path. And when the businessman releases a recent photo of Baxter along with his real name his carefully arranged world crumbles.

The Third Illusion is a 1990s thriller with a perfect set-up and delivery. The narrative is first person and the prose is clean and simple. It is loaded with dialogue that sounds just right and enough–but not too much—philosophy scattered into the storyline to make it interesting.

“I didn’t answer. Instead, I opened my attachĂ© case, removed Ronald Webster’s business card, and threw it on the bed. “This guy works for Steel. He’s the one who bearded me at John Gull’s funeral. He got a good look at my car, and I sensed he knows who I am. In fact, he’s the only person in the last few weeks who’s had a look at my car, other than some people I trust.”

The style and narrative give the The Third Illusion the feel of a private eye novel with a heady dose of thriller plotting. The prose is medium-boiled—not too smooth, but certainly lacking the aggressive and gritty toughness of hardboiled. The characters are standard, but likable and interesting within the context of the story. And the story absolutely zooms! It runs 452 pages in mass market, but it doesn’t feel nearly that long.

The Third Illusion is an example of some of the better genre pulp of the early 1990s. It is entertaining, swift, and damn fun. The plot is tricky without any gimmicks and while the climax stretches belief a bit, it is done expertly enough that the reader doesn’t much care.

The Third Illusion was published by Harper in 1993—it was a paperback original. It was Harry Arnston’s second to last novel and it was, if not his best novel, damn near the top of his body of work. But his work improved with each novel and I can only imagine what he would be producing now.

To read some biographical information about Harry Arnston click Here.

Other Gravetapping reviews of Harry’s work:

Act of Passion
The Venus Diaries

No comments: