Fresh Meat: Last Days of the Condor by James Grady

Last Days of the Condor by James Grady is a espionage thriller focusing on a silver-haired CIA agent who is now nearing retirement, heavily medicated,  and under constant surveillance (available February 17, 2015).

Author James Grady ignites an espionage thriller the way it’s supposed to detonate and that’s on the run with swift, adrenaline pumping intrigue. Spy movie enthusiasts may recall the 1975 film adaptation of his Six Days of the Condor (title subtracted by Three) where actor Robert Redford, codenamed Condor—who analyzes books and magazines for the CIA—steps out for lunch and comes back to find all his colleagues assassinated. He’s then targeted himself and from there it’s a hypersonic race to the finish as he searches for the why. In the post-Watergate turmoil, where a gleaming host of conspiracy books and films (The Conversation, The Parallax View) were everywhere, Grady’s Condor went to the head of the distrustful class. And, these days, in an era of Edward Snowden, WikiLeaks, and where privacy is taking its last gasp, the return of the Condor is apropos.

Grady's Last Days of the Condor opens with the protagonist decelerated to a crawl and being treated for various ailments both physical and psychological. As a result, he has forgotten much of his past and only out of instinct does he use simple precautions like wedging a leaf in the house door and stretching dental floss across the inside steps to detect any clandestine comings and goings when he’s not home. Good thing he’s paranoid since he’s being tracked by a cover team in Washington, DC. Though, it begs the question, what possible threat could this silver-haired senior citizen be to anyone? He’s no longer called Condor but Vin after Steve McQueen’s role in The Magnificent Seven. In addition, he gets regular check-ups on his well-being and activities because he falls under Persons In Need of Security Supervision resulting in an intrusive Government home evaluation unit that monitors him regularly, snapping photos of his room, medicine cabinet, and other private details.

Where in the musty upstairs office amidst empty desks and silent typewriters stood a blurred man who had Saigon scars in his heart and a white Styrofoam cup of steaming coffee in his hand as he told twenty-something Condor: “Learn to live your secrets in plain sight so when the bad Joes go looking, there’s nothing to find.”

Faye Dozier works for The National Resources Operations Division and was part of the two-person team that assessed the aged Condor. She takes his concerns seriously and witnesses the surveillance vehicle that is monitoring his activities. Later, when her partner is found murdered in Condor’s apartment (our paranoid protagonist found all his security checks undisturbed), she believes that he’s been framed and ends up on the run with him to help prove his innocence.

Faye heard cough, a bullet whine past her face.

Found the Glock in her hand, fired twice at the falling man, blood spraying from hits on unarmored flesh, then he was tumbling out of sight on the descending escalator.

BANG! Condor firing up the mouth of the tunnel. Faye whirled—saw four human shapes dive out of sight of her escalator-up view.

Mr. Grady circles high with Last Days of the Condor. The novel reads crisp, topical, and not simply revisiting old glories which would have been easy enough. It was a bit weighed down with the insider cloak-and-dagger acronyms that I had to Google, but this is a minor gripe because the novel is an engaging page-turner that’s not to be missed. Of note, you don’t have to have read the other books in the series—I admit that I hadn’t—because Mr. Grady meticulously weaves in what’s necessary to know in this contemporary thriller.

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Edward A. Grainger aka David Cranmer is the editor/publisher of the BEAT to a PULP webzine and books and the recent noir Western collection, Further Adventures of Cash Laramie and Gideon Miles.

Read all of Edward A. Grainger's posts for Criminal Element.