African darkness looms over high-stakes thriller

Choice of Enemies, by M. A. Richards. Sunbury Press. 224 pages. Hardcover $24.95. Trade paperback $16.95.

Billed the first Nathan Monsarrat Thriller, “Choice of Enemies” introduces Nathan working as an academic dean at a Greylock College in Western Massachusetts. Actually, the novel opens a couple of years earlier, with the narrator detailing the last chapter in Nathan’s career as a CIA deep cover operative. We see a confused tableau in which Nathan is rescued after many months of incarceration and torture in Africa at the hands of a Nigerian rebel group named FATA. His rescuer, who is also his CIA superior, is a man of many identities. One of those identities is as Felix Sanhedrin, a cruel egocentric with expensive tastes, a warped sense of fashion, and no loyalties. COE-Super-Hi-Res

Nathan had been caught up in the battle to control African oil, the goal of a consortium of American oil companies in league with the CIA. African national leaders, who may just as well be called African criminal gang bosses, have other ideas – as do the rebels seeking to overthrow them. Nathan is still not done making the transition to his new bucolic life in Berkshire territory when Sanhedrin shows up with an assignment that has the additional benefit of allowing Nathan to settle scores and perhaps rescue a woman very dear to him.

The assignment has to do with the transfer of a rare terracotta statue, but that mission soon leads to others, including an assassination that leaves Nathan rather gleeful.

The lure of Mr. Richards’ book is its virtuoso game of high style and authentic details of espionage tradecraft.  Clothes and gadgets make the man, whether we are observing Nathan Monsarrat or Felix Sanhedrin. It’s hard to know what kind of audience they are dressing for, especially the zany Sanhedrin, who has at some point assumed a surname that is the Hebrew word for the high court of ancient Israel. (His surname for another persona, Seleucid, also alludes to the ancient Middle East.)

Richards

Richards

The author has a penchant for Jewish references, including choosing a setting in Namibia that has the same name as a town in Israel – Rosh Pinah. Mr. Richards even finds room for a minor character called the “yeshiva bocher” (an Orthodox Jewish schoolboy), now switching from Hebrew to Yiddish for his Jewish-toned running in-joke.

Threat and suspicion are everywhere in Nathan’s world, and he himself is the cause of it in worlds that he enters. Thus, suspense is everywhere, too. Mr. Richards is already a master at manipulating his readers and raising the suspense thermometer to higher and higher levels. Nathan Monsarrat’s stony deliberateness is part of the process. Will all of his careful planning produce its intended end result? Or will things go wrong? . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the May 11, 2016 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the May 12 Naples, Bonita Springs, Punta Gorda/Port Charlotte, Palm Beach Gardens/Jupiter, and Palm Beach/West Palm Beach editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Richards

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