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Jack Duran’s relatively quiet life as a tour guide in Rome takes a drastic turn when someone tries to kill him. A few someones, actually, who want to know about the lotus flower Jack’s paleoethnobotanist brother, Dan, sent him. Jack doesn’t know why several factions, including the U.S. Diplomatic Security Service, are interested in the lotus, but they’re sure he knows where Dan is. He doesn’t, but with a group of Iranian assassins on his tail, he decides to hunt for his brother, beginning in Turkmenistan. Jack and his brother’s girlfriend, Dutch archaeologist Phoebe Auerbach (with whom Jack was once infatuated), reconnect to track down Dan and the lotus—if they can stay alive long enough. Angsten certainly knows how to kick-start his story: Jack is on a date with mysterious Maya, unaware he’s being followed by at least two unknown parties. Angsten further establishes suspense right away with one assassin in particular, Vanitar, who blames Jack for his brother’s death and is fueled by vengeance. The book is rife with nail-biting tension, as when Jack must duck into an airport restroom before even getting out of Rome, before his and Phoebe’s search takes them inside a dark crypt. The action rarely stops. Jack (and eventually Phoebe) bounces all over Central Asia while traveling by plane, train, boat, and car. He’s also chased by professional killers, hotel security, and police in a variety of places, from a hospital to the desert. Love connections—between Jack and Phoebe as well as Dan and Phoebe—are teased, but Dan, his fate uncertain, isn’t around to ignite potential melodrama. On occasion, Angsten threatens to saturate the plot with detail—the purpose of the lotus, for example, is fairly simple and explained a bit too often—but these discussions among Jack and others are never tedious, since it’s only a matter of time before they’re back to evading murderous baddies.
Angsten hits all the genre highlights—action, suspense, mystery—in this worthwhile thriller.