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The Devil's Halo    by Chris Fox order for
Devil's Halo
by Chris Fox
Order:  USA  Can
Hutchinson, 2005 (2005)
* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Nelson Demille calls the author's LUCI in the Sky a 'breathtaking 21st-century spy story'. Though I haven't read that one, the style of The Devil's Halo reminded me very much of Demille's own writing. It has a credible (at least to the uninitiated) military and technology context; a complex and horrifying plot, plenty of violent action with close, improbable escapes for its protagonists; and the kind of villains James Bond would have expected to go up against.

It's set in a near future, in which NATO has 'faded from memory', Russia is part of a supersized European Union, and U.S. popularity around the world is at an all time low. Countries that used to be allies believe the U.S. view space 'as an American tower from which to pour boiling oil down on its neighbours'. French President Broissard will soon be sworn in as President of the Greater European Union, and he has big plans for that day. He's (shades of Freedom Fries) one of the bad guys, who also include cadres within the Russian and French governments and intelligence services.

The good guys' involvement starts after the piracy of a blockbuster movie just before its release by Russian capitalist Sergei Maleshnekov, whose hackers have broken its military-level encryption. Professor Terry Weston, who moonlights for the CIA CAFE (Contract Agents for Economics) gets it back, escaping from ex-KGB thug Constantin Rodin by the skin of his teeth. Terry is then blackmailed into digging further to find out what Maleshnekov and his French allies are really up to - to keep the pressure on, his wife Maria (a brilliant scientist and consultant to DARPA) and six-year-old daughter Ariana are brought to Russia.

From then on, Maria is Terry's full partner in espionage, which they carry out with a little help from 'microbotic aircraft, each no longer than a fingernail' (running these bugsized surveillance microplanes seemed like a lot of fun, especially for video game enthusiasts), and from U.S. military Special Operators Sam and Ivan. The pair rushes from one improbably close shave to another, gathering information (and evidence) on the villains' plans - while a highly placed mole back in the States steadily works against them. They race to prevent a devastating 'electronic Pearl Harbor'.

Though often slowed down by its discourse on politics and technology, The Devil's Halo is an exciting read (it left me bleary eyed after staying up too late) with a twisty ending. Its villains tend to be stereotypical, though Rodin eventually shows a surprisingly human side. The writing is often witty, as in Fox's summing up the new Russia as 'a coarse gangster's fantasy wrapped in a Victoria's Secret catalog.' This story would make a very entertaining movie, and I look forward to what Chris Fox writes next.

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