- Reviewed by David M. Kinchen
Borrowing a title from legendary pulp fiction writer Mickey Spillane, Douglas MacKinnon’s “Vengeance Is Mine” (Threshhold Editions, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, 256 pages, $25.00, also available as en e-book) introduces us to former CIA special ops agent Ian Wallace, an emotionally damaged man who’s channeling his inner Mike Hammer in a spy action thriller that reminds us that the former Soviet Union is not completely dead, that the modern Russia is just as brutal a country as the Communist regime was — in many respects. The recent election of Vladimir Putin, the former KGB officer who refuses to go away, is solid proof of that fact of life, as is the violence toward news media people who dare question the Putin regime.
Spillane’s 1950 novel was the third one featuring hardboiled beyond belief private investigator Mike Hammer. He had the voluptuous Velda as his secretary, a tough as nails woman who also had a P.I. license and knew how to handle herself. Ian Wallace, a former field ops man at the Central Intelligence Agency, has a more restrained assistant in British import Mrs. Casey in his office on Park Street in downtown Boston, across from the Boston Common. (A personal note: I’ve only visited Boston once, but as an urban walker, I immediately fell in love with a compact town that oozes history from every pore).
Wallace does the usual private investigative work and is currently seeking $3,000 from a client who has declined to pay the bill, refusing to believe that his wife is the serial cheater that Wallace has documented. When Wallace returns from northern Virginia after guarding “an extremely wealthy socialist” — a lefty who lives in one of the most expensive suburbs in the country, he discovers that his office has been infiltrated by Philip Andrews, his best friend and former colleague from Langley. Phil proceeds to make Wallace an offer he can’t refuse. Unlike Wallace, Phil has stayed with the “Company”, racking up twenty years with the CIA.
* * *
Growing up in the tough working class Dorchester neighborhood of Boston, Ian Wallace had no idea he’d be working for the Central Intelligence Agency. His early life was dysfunctional as only one who has experienced — as I have — life with an alcoholic father could understand.
I’m guessing MacKinnon has experienced alcholism in his family circle, too, because he’s spot on about the life of a functioning alcoholic parent. Some days are good, when the parent straightens up — if only briefly — and flies right. One such period saw the family move to the affluent suburb of Westwood, southwest of Boston, where Ian discovered as a student at Westwood High School that he was good at sports, especially ice hockey.
He was bigger and stronger than most of his classmates and eventually played defense for a team in the New England Junior Hockey League. During this time Ian was attending college, majoring in political science. He instinctively know that the career of an athlete could be cut short in an eye blink by an injury, which is what happened when, as a tryout rookie, he was playing with the New York Rangers against the New York Islanders.
He was 21, with a blasted right knee and a college diploma when he was approached by a CIA recruiter who told him his combination of college major, his short-lived hockey career and his dysfunctional childhood in one of the toughest neighborhoods in the country qualified him for a special ops post at the CIA. Ian had taken Russian in college, which led to the assignment that changed his life forever.
On assignment in Moscow, with the usual cover of a State Department post at the embassy, Ian Wallace met Irena, a beautiful blonde analyst at Moscow University. She loved skating, and suddenly Ian discovered that he’s in love and the two become intimate. Not long after, Wallace is snatched from the street, strapped to a chair in the basement of Lubyanka Prison and tortured by a KGB colonel named Ivanchenko He had made the mother of all mistakes: He got emotionally involved. I won’t go into the details, but Ian Wallace vows after he was dumped in front of the embassy from a KGB car that some day, some how, he would kill Ivanchenko.
* * *
Flash forward twenty years and Phil offers Ian $40,000 to guard a Russian defector, who has become a professor at MIT, working on the latest version of “Star Wars” — Ballistic Missile Defense — making his survival a matter of national security. Wallace moves the obsese, ugly and obnoxious Russian into his three-bedroom house in suburban Dedham, vowing the burn the sheets and disinfect the room after the job is over. The Russian doesn’t believe in bathing and deodorants are foreign to him.
The ever wily Philip Andrews had sent another agent to help him. Kathy Donahue is drop-dead gorgeous, tough as nails and has issues of her own from her service in Afghanistan. Tension between the two experienced agents builds, but Kathy soon senses that Wallace’s bloodthirsty desire for revenge against Ivanchenko, who is leading a squad that aims to kidnap the scientist, could destroy both of them.
Like Spillane’s books, MacKinnon’s “Vengeance Is Mine” is a stripped-to-the-bone novel, with no padding, but with relentless suspense. It’s geared at conservative readers, from a division of Simon & Schuster that targets them, but I think any devotee of spy thrillers will find Ian Wallace a complex, intriguing and appealing character. I have no doubt we’ll see more of him.
About the Author
Douglas MacKinnon is a principal in one of the world’s largest international law firms. He is also the author of Rolling Pennies in the Dark, a regular contributor to several major newspapers, the influential web-based publications Townhall.com and The Huffington Post, and is syndicated on a regular basis. MacKinnon also makes frequent appearances on MSNBC, Fox News, CNN, CBS News, ABC News, and the Westwood One radio network. MacKinnon served as a writer for Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, and spent three years at the Pentagon serving in a joint command as a special assistant for Policy and Communications. Throughout his political writing career, he also worked with such notable people as Condoleezza Rice, John F. Kennedy Jr., Bill Clinton, and many more. Website:http://authors.simonandschuster.com/Douglas-MacKinnon/75407929