Enigma by Catherine Coulter is the 21st book in the FBI Thriller series, where Agents Savich and Sherlock are presented with two baffling mysteries and must work with Agent Cam Wittier (Insidious) and New York-based former Special Forces agent Jack Cabot in a race against the clock to catch an international criminal and solve the enigma of the man called John Doe.
Catherine Coulter is the powerhouse author of more than 80 novels, 75 of which have been New York Times bestsellers. She began writing historical/Regency romances—and occasionally revisits those roots—before adding suspense to her arsenal with the publication of The Cove (1996), which launched her popular FBI Thriller series that currently boasts 21 titles. Additionally, Coulter co-authors a four-book (and growing) saga with JT Ellison.
The newest addition to the FBI Thriller series is Enigma, which features Agents Dillon Savich and Lacey Sherlock, who are married and have a young child together. As the story opens, Savich has been called to a Georgetown home where he encounters a seemingly psychotic man (henceforth referred to as “John Doe”) who has taken 27-year-old expectant mother Kara Moody hostage and is spouting off irrationally (“I know they’re coming and they’ll take you. You’ve got to come away with me before it’s too late!”). Savich is able to neutralize the situation but not without a few unintended consequences: the perp is rendered unconscious (later slipping into a coma), the mother-to-be goes into labor, and local authorities view the agent’s actions as an infringement on their turf.
Both Kara and her attacker find themselves in the same hospital where Kara gives birth to a healthy baby boy while doctors try to unravel the mysteries of John Doe’s condition. Though his earlier ravings were assumed to be the result of paranoid delusion, a string of shocking events prompt Savich and Sherlock to suspect that there’s a link between the two apparent strangers—and that John Doe’s dramatic proclamations may actually be based in a very twisted truth. As the two follow leads, they discover that there’s somebody out there desperately seeking to create the fountain of youth—and that he’ll stop at nothing to do so. While this premise itself isn’t new or entirely based in reality, the author’s rendering—along with advances in technology—result in a sinister sense of imminence.
Meanwhile, Agents Cam Wittier (Insidious)—a new transfer to Savich’s Criminal Apprehension Unit (CAU)—and Jack Cabot are assigned to track bank robber Manta Ray (real name: Liam Hennessey) through the Daniel Boon National Forest, where he has disappeared with two associates following a daring escape from federal marshals. One of the safe deposit boxes Manta Ray stole before his imprisonment was never found, and authorities can’t help but wonder if his underlying motivation is to recover its contents.
What they don’t know—but will soon find out—is that this inquiry will have serious ramifications in Washington. Though Wittier and Cabot have never worked a case together before, theirs is an instantly fun and flirtatious dynamic; the intensity of their mission only serves to amplify the inevitable romantic tension.
For all its strengths, the narrative does have some flaws. For instance, the dialogue—particularly from younger characters—is occasionally old fashioned and/or unrealistic (Kara: “Goodness, why, for heaven’s sake?”). Also, Coulter tends to convey minute details in conversation, which can feel like information overload. Additionally, these verbal exchanges tend to be punctuated by the use of character names in addressing one another; when done sparingly, this helps to clarify who’s speaking, but the repetition of this technique seems both unnecessary and unnatural. Finally, the denouement consists largely of the guilty being baited into confession and then explaining themselves at length, which strikes as a somewhat neophytic approach for a genre veteran.
Despite these shortcomings and the book’s length—Enigma totals nearly 500 pages—there’s no denying that it’s an exhilarating read. Coulter has often professed that picking up just one of her FBI Thrillers is enough to hook readers, and that’s no idle boast. Compelling characters, a timely plot, and international intrigue conspire to keep pages turning. Longtime fans should be pleased with this latest installment, while newbies to the series will more likely than not be tempted to dabble in the author’s backlist.
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John Valeri wrote the popular Hartford Books Examiner column for Examiner.com from 2009 – 2016. He can be found online at www.johnbvaleri.com and is featured in the Halloween-themed anthology Tricks and Treats, now available from Books & Boos Press.