Wednesday, March 13, 2024

Review: "Top Secret Kill" by James P. Cody (The D.C. Man)


Top Secret Kill
by James P. Cody
Brash Books, 2024


Top Secret Kill—originally published as a paperback original by Berkley-Medallion in 1974—is the first of four titles in the short-lived series, The D.C. Man, by the pseudonymous James P. Cody. Brian Petersen is a Washington, D.C. lobbyist-turned-troubleshooter that describes himself as a “former college football bum, former Army intelligence type” that found contentment with a “domesticated” life. Petersen’s happiness is shattered when his young daughter and wife are killed in an automobile accident that sent him to the Florida Keys on a six-month bender. At the coaxing of his father-in-law, a former senator, Petersen sobered-up, returned to the District, and reopened his lobbying office.
     But, as Petersen explains, his work “started to drift into other, nastier and less public, services for clients, services you wouldn’t want anybody to know about.” Which is where Top Secret Kill begins. First with Petersen warning off a blackmailer for a congressman and then—the real meat of the narrative—his full-throttle investigation into the identity of the person leaking classified intel from a Senate committee developing cost estimates for specific types of military conflicts. It is a big job for a solo act like Brian Petersen, but a job befitting his unrestrained, sometimes violent, and always secretive style.
     Top Secret Kill is a cool thriller. It reads like a hybrid of men’s adventure and a private eye yarn; perhaps 75-percent of the former and 25-percent of the latter. There is a little mystery, including a calculated murder that sets Petersen on a vengeance trail, a bunch of Cold War paranoia, a touch of commentary about the D.C. of the 1970s, and a solid stream of action. With that said, the opening third of the book is slowed by Petersen’s backstory, but stick with it because it picks up in a hurry and by the midway mark the narrative sparks and slams home with a satisfying bang. Top Secret Kill will appeal more to readers of men’s adventure—think Don Pendleton’s Mack Bolan—than general mystery readers, but it is a cut (or two or three) above the standard in that too often (and usually unfairly) maligned genre.

All four of The D.C. Man books are back in print from Brash Books. These new editions include an Introduction, written by Tom Simon, detailing his excellent work uncovering the identity of James P. Cody—a former Roman Catholic priest named, Peter Rohrbach.

 Click here for the Kindle edition and here for the paperback at Amazon.

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