The Kill Circle by David Freed is the sixth offering in the Cordell Logan series, a fast-paced thriller that is brimming with action and humor (available October 31, 2017).
There’s something to be said for writing what you know. David Freed, an instrument-rated pilot who has also worked extensively in the United States intelligence community, uses insider intel to inform the characters and circumstances that propel his Cordell Logan mysteries. Further, he is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, screenwriter, and teacher—all disciplines that are evident in the breadth of his fiction.
The Kill Circle—the series’ sixth entry—finds Cordell Logan contentedly retired from his former life as an assassin for the government. Now, he is residing in posh Rancho Bonita, California, where he inhabits a garage apartment with his non-sociable cat, Kiddiot, keeps company with his elderly dynamo of a landlady, Mrs. Schmulowitz, and operates a small civilian flight school nearby. Despite his training and former occupation, Logan is an aspiring Buddhist; still, certain personality types and proclivities—such as the uncivilized brute he encounters in Chapter Two—give him pause:
Once upon a time, I wouldn’t have waited to discuss those things. We would have continued the conversation right then and there, and our little talk would have ended with him in intensive care or, quite possibly, the morgue. But with maturity, if you’re at all fortunate, comes the dawning awareness that 10 percent of life is what you make it; the other 90 percent is how you take it. You learn when to pick your battles and the wisdom that most battles ultimately aren’t worth fighting to begin with. Discovering Buddhism late in life had helped me understand that lesson, even if I sometimes fell well short in practicing it. The yin and yang. The lover of peace. The purveyor of death. I didn’t want to harm anyone but I would if I had to.
Of course, relative peace doesn’t make for a compelling whodunit. Consequently, Logan’s solitude is broken when he receives a call from a former comrade-in-arms, Buzz (who is still active in the intelligence community), asking him to assist in a sensitive matter that has ties to the JFK assassination. Though Logan initially declines the assignment, the allure of Layne Sterling, a fellow agent whose beauty is matched by her intelligence and quick wit, causes him to reconsider; he finds himself attracted to Sterling in a way that he hasn’t been to any other woman since his deceased ex-wife. This unexpected surge of emotions is one that both tantalizes and terrifies him, adding to the narrative tension.
I liked her smile, the gentle way she teased me, her self-confidence. At what point, I wondered, does liking someone start to add up to something more than that? I was about to do something I’ve rarely done—share with a woman what I was starting to feel for her—when a waiter showed up and interrupted the moment. He was a tall, chiseled twenty-something, with long sideburns, carefully cropped stubble, and an arrogant air that suggested little trouble with the ladies.
Their assignment—particularly timely, given the impending release of our government’s final batch of classified documents on the case—is to quietly investigate the deaths of two men who have perished within weeks of one another under questionable circumstances. Both were former intelligence analysts who once worked as members of Red Lancer:
Red Lancer. Now that rang a bell. The code name for a CIA task force formed in-house in 2007 to investigate long-standing rumors that rogue operatives working for the nation’s most powerful intelligence-gathering organization had been complicit in the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Perhaps predictably, the Red Lancer task force (so named because “Lancer” was Kennedy’s Secret Service call sign and “red” was the color of the blood he shed the day he was killed) eventually would clear the CIA of any involvement in the president’s murder. How the task force reached its conclusion, what evidence it considered, was never made public.
Could there be a killer, or killers, systematically silencing those individuals with knowledge of what transpired that day in Dallas before the truth can be made public? These suspicious deaths, coupled with the discovery that (fictional) files have gone missing from the archives, would appear to suggest so.
Yet, little is what it seems in this kind of book. As Logan and Sterling venture into unfamiliar territory (under the guise of insurance investigators), they are met with a sundry cast of characters who range in appearance from helpful and hapless to hormonal and homicidal. It’s knowing which reality lies beneath the surface facades that poses the greatest challenge, though repeated attempts on their lives—and a growing body count—tends to indicate that they’re on to … well, something. But whether or not that something is related to the assassination or crimes of a more insulated nature is unknown.
Freed excels at keeping his protagonists, and thereby his readers, off-kilter; this is achieved not only through introducing a revolving cast of enigmatic secondary characters with myriad motivations but by allowing the ambient backdrops—often, the brutal cold of Angel Falls, Colorado—to become their own threat. Realistic dialogue, clever red herrings, the duality of internal thought and external action, and a wealth of authentic details throughout (both in terms of piloting and the inner workings of the intelligence community) all work together to ensure a reading experience that surpasses the norm.
The Kill Circle is a fierce, often frenetic, and surprisingly funny novel whose characters are as complex as the plot they’ve been written into. The author deftly balances investigative savvy and romantic intrigue with subtle touches of backstory and ruminations on an event that’s haunted America for more than half a century. Despite the enormity of that topic, Freed never gets bogged down in its minutiae, resulting in a book that should satisfy both genre enthusiasts and assassination buffs, regardless of which side of the conspiracy/lone gunman debate they fall on. Ultimately, it’s the mystery and mastery of Cordell Logan that will sustain readers—and demand that they do their own recon on one of the great series protagonists of our time.
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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.