“[A] complex and cunning tale [with] an empathetic hero caught in a precarious struggle to do the right thing and make peace with his past.”
“Readers will hope they won’t have to wait another 19 years for Pascual’s next adventure.”
Back in the late 90s/early aughts, crime novelist Sam Reeves released a thriller series under the name Dominic Martell that followed the exploits of Pascual Rose, an ex-terrorist who sold out his former comrades-in-arms to the CIA and Mossad in exchange for a new identity and new life in Barcelona.
At the time, Kirkus Reviews aptly described Pascual as “a Byronic anti-hero” — a man with a debt of sins, haunted by his past, seeking anonymity and repentance. But he rarely had the opportunity to withdraw completely from a life of international espionage and crime, as various parties in need of his knowledge and skills invariably managed to track him down and rope him (persuasively or forcibly) into dangerous efforts in service of their own interests.
Fast-forward twenty-something years. With the release of Kill Chain (Dunn Books), Martell brings Pascual into the 21st century — older and wiser yet once again coerced into international skulduggery at the peril of exposure for the sins of his past. It’s an exciting return of a cyberthriller series — as apparently, there are yet more adventures coming.
SO MUCH FOR “RETIREMENT”
Living in a provincial Catalan town, making a decent (if uneventful) living from document translation, with a son in college and his cantaora wife off making a record, it’s been a long time since anyone’s even bothered to track Pascual down. It seems he’s finally retired into that life of anonymity he’s always longed for.
Or so he thinks, until one evening, his laptop gets hacked, and some unwanted guests show up on his terrace unannounced. Two shady characters, Lina and Felix, present him with the proverbial “offer he can’t refuse:” help them “transfer” some misappropriated funds to an undisclosed benefactor — or something bad just might happen to his son and wife. And don’t bother trying to inform anyone; they’ve got every device he and his family owns hacked and monitored.
It’s not all without the promise of reward, though — he’s looking at earning one million euros for an ask that seems relatively easy, at least on the surface. Pascual’s been in similar dilemmas before. Only this time, it appears, he’s about to become party to an international money-laundering scheme. And it’s not just his own life hanging in the balance.
TEACHING AN OLD DOG NEW TRICKS
But why Pascual? He’s no expert on international finance, particularly that of the 21st-century world. It becomes evident soon enough, though, that he’s uniquely qualified for the job — an old, abandoned identity with a clean slate of digital history and an unusual identifying trait that can be used to set up a credible fall guy. The job itself may be way outside his field of expertise, but he’s a real quick study, though it’s in his best interests to conceal this from his handlers.
It’s not long before Pascual finds himself trapped in a scheme involving a complex network of sovereign wealth, shell companies and cryptocurrencies, besieged on all sides by mysterious benefactors, Russian mafiosos, German intelligence, and a very concerned daughter of a missing man whose most recent “assignment” was uncannily similar to Pascual’s own. With the help of a young street criminal and a computer security expert, Pascual races against time to uncover who or what is behind the operation that, once exposed, could have the potential to take down entire governments and global markets.
It’s a fast-paced adventure that has Pascual jetting from one tax haven to another, at every turn trying to stay one step ahead of his handlers, sensing they will soon have little need of him and his unique “qualifications” for the job — and that what he knows will become a fatal liability.
A PAGE-TURNING READ WITH A LIKEABLE HERO
Having read previous books in the Pascual Rose series, I was struck by the character’s maturation from a young man with a guilty conscience and somewhat self-destructive tendencies to a cynical, sardonic late-middle-aged suburbanite who’s been there, done that. He’s learned the hard way that no one can be trusted, nothing is mere happenstance, and nowhere is more dangerous than the places in which you feel safest. A passive-aggressive swagger and sense of humor are in play throughout the novel, making Pascual a thoroughly enjoyable viewpoint character.
Along the way, Martell keeps the action moving by introducing layers of complicating factors into the plot until Pascual is wrapped in a Gordian knot of trouble that will be difficult to break free of without losing his life or his loved ones. Nevertheless, that’s the joy of a Pascual Rose novel — seeing how he extricates himself from yet another impossible situation.
Between constantly nagging anxiety over what is and isn’t being monitored by the bad guys, and the plot’s many turns and skin-of-the-teeth escapes, Kill Chain will keep you on the edge of your seat and turning pages well into the night.
Kill Chain is available for purchase, along with a newly reissued edition of the first book in the Pascual Rose series, Lying, Crying, Dying, both out now from Dunn Books.