A Surgeon Cool with a Handgun and a Scalpel

Men: What would you do if your new wife suddenly started to act as though she was distracted by something that had nothing to do with you, something that’s been causing her to take off for hours without a word of explanation? If you’re surgeon Jonathan Ransom, on marital leave from your work with Doctors Without Borders, you follow her, as he did in author Christopher Reich’s Rules of Vengeance. When you find out that she’s liaising with another man and when you see her taking part in the annihilation of an important political figure and when she disappears and goes “black” (in the jargon of the spy trade), you drop your other obligations and go look for her. Your wife, code-named Emma, is a double agent.

In Reich’s third Ransom book, Rules of Betrayal, the doctor continues his search. It isn’t long before he learns that there’s a lost nuke in the wrong hands.

In what credible way do people get their mitts on such a thing? In 1984 the bomb was carried aboard an American B-52 on a secret mission after Russian troops overthrew the government of Afghanistan. The bomber went down in a remote and treacherous mountain range on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. What has Emma got to do with this fouled-up piece of clandestine history? And what kind of husband does she take Jonathan for anyway?

Though he’s a man of medicine, Ransom can wrap his hand around the trigger guard of a handgun as coolly as the antiseptic steel of a scalpel. Following Emma’s trail brings him into the mountain passes of Afghanistan, where he becomes convinced that she’s involved in a deadly game being played by two competing agencies (Division in the U.S. and the FSB in Moscow), a powerful Muslim/British arms trafficker named Ashok Balfour Armitraj aka Lord Balfour, and “The Hawk,” real identity Sultan Haq, possibly the deadliest and most ruthless terrorist warlord in the region.

Emma, whom we now know is working both for Division and the FSB, turns up as Russian Lara Antonova, on assignment to strike a deal with Balfour for the nuke. At around the same time, Ransom is driven to a cave in Tora Bora where Sultan Haq’s merciless jihadist father Abdul Al-Haq is suffering from a worsening stomach ailment. Our central characters are on personal terms with the worst of the arms trade and the Taliban leadership, with everyone critically suspicious of the others’ true alliances and agendas.

The cast of characters also includes Prince Rashid, a secret financier for Islamic causes and Israeli Danni Pine, a beautiful secret agent. Pine is Division director Frank Connor’s choice to train Ransom in spy craft after he tries to recruit Jonathan as a spy for Division.

The twists are as numerous as the players. In Betrayal Jonathan discovers his true purpose in life like a film image slowly forming in the development bath of his destiny.

Reich earns our admiration for the originality of his central premise: a marriage that was never what it seemed to be affects the outcome of who gains control of a wayward nuclear bomb. With so many shadowy characters in a tale of chilling international espionage, the uniquely drawn surgical genius Jonathan Ransom earns our attention and the respect of his allies and enemies. Except for the dead ones that litter his bloody wake.

RATING 7 / 10
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