THE LAZARUS DROP

Paul Moomaw

Illustrated by Judith Huey

The Fiction Works / 197 pages / (November 23, 2010)

ASIN: B004DNWEG8

A Lazarus drop — for those of us not up on our spy lingo — refers to an assignment in the familiar Mission: Impossible mode: once the agent is inserted, the contractor will disavow all knowledge of them. In this case, Nathaniel Blue’s employer is the United States government. That means he’s working for the “good guys” this time, right? Don’t be so sure. Little is as it appears in The Lazarus Drop.

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Blue is on his way to Mexico to liberate a captive defector, a mathematician who may well be humanity’s best hope for reaching the stars. Mexico, in the future, is a fragmented country, under the control of dictators. The splinter-state of Michoacan has Erno Imry and its particular tyrant, Romulo Noriega, has no intention of letting the scientist slip through his fingers. If a few or scores of his people have to die to hang onto the invaluable prisoner, Noriega is willing to take that risk. Actually, he will hardly notice the losses, and definitely not regret them.

But, that is life in Mexico in the late 21st century. Life is the cheapest commodity.

This is not an ideal situation for any agent. But, Blue may well be the ideal agent for the situation. The mere fact that he has survived to reach his 50s speaks for his abilities. Maybe the experience of living that long has given him the cool head and vulnerable heart that make him the deadly, discriminating killer his country wants.

Just as long as no one finds out.

America has its secrets, but it’s not alone; Blue knows there is no government he can trust. He will have to put his faith and life in the hands of strangers, rebels against the General in power. As long as their goals are the same, everything should be fine.

At least, we can trust Moomaw. He has drawn an image of a world not so different from ours. The failures and changes that would shift our reality to that of the deadly struggle of The Lazarus Drop are appallingly minor. We are closer to this ruined civilization than it is comfortable to admit.

And there is the secret of Moomaw’s talent: creating an all-too-possible setting and dropping the reader into the heart of the action. We hit the ground running. It will be the final page of the novel before we can stop to catch our breath.

So, why do we immediately look for the next nerve-racking assignment? If Blue does not return for other adventures, it will be a waste of a complex, beguiling character and a situation rife with possibilities. Should he pop up in another exploit, I promise to be among the first to read it.

It’s a violent, harsh world, with the same faulty amalgam of characters we see on the news, and around the office, and in the mirror every day. It’s not so far-fetched — and that’s the scariest element of all.