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Painkiller    by Will Staeger order for
by Will Staeger
Order:  USA  Can
William Morrow, 2005 (2005)
Hardcover, e-Book

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

This powerful debut thriller takes off running, literally, as a diseased escapee is hunted through the jungle over a cliff, and riddled with bullets (the amount of effort expended to kill him reminded me of Rasputin). The body - covered in sores and with a voodoo mark - washes up on British Virgins Tortola Island, whose police captain calls in a local, washed up CIA operative (there's quite a story to how the agent who calls himself W. Cooper ended up there) and asks him to quietly dispose of the corpse.

Cooper, the sole CIA case officer in his territory (virtually no-one else in the organization is even aware of his existence) does so, but the dead man haunts him, piggybacking on his personal nightmares to call for more than just an efficient disposal of his remains. So Cooper digs. He soon discovers that the man had extreme radiation sickness, and that he was a modern day zombie. Back in Washington, junior CIA China analyst Julie Laramie finds satellite data indicative of the possible build-up to a Chinese invasion. She postulates that fundamentalist vice premier General Deng Jiang, who runs the military, is taking rogue action. The problem is that, in the current political climate, Laramie's superiors, concerned primarily with their own career advancement, don't want to hear this and will probably bury her report.

A Deep Throat scenario follows, eventually getting Laramie into deep trouble with her own Agency. While this develops, Cooper finds out about some of her work and contacts her. They intrigue each other and she eventually ends up on his doorstep, at which point they team up to conduct ops under the radar. The action then accelerates towards an explosive, gory confrontation on an isolated Lesser Antilles island called Mango Cay. Along the way, there's a tie in to a sunk nuclear sub, a plot in which wheels turn within wheels, and villains reminiscent of a James Bond adventure - after the obligatory cliffhanging encounters, this story ends in the same satisfactory fashion for the good guys. Although the initial build-up of Painkiller is somewhat jerky, it settles into an absorbing read, that ends with a big bang.

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