When you have read enough thrillers, you pretty much expect the twists and turns in the story, as well as most, if not all of the culprits (goes for mysteries, too). Halfway through The Identity Factor by James Houston Turner, you start wondering what the next half will contain as you know which way the story is going, and 100-odd pages to catch even the most elusive criminal are a bit too much, right?
But then, one more thing the thrillers teach you is that it ain't over till the fat lady sings.
An Egyptian businessman finds ancient tablet — uncovered by a British archaeologist in Sinai — in an antiques shop. The tablet is filled with hieroglyphs controversial enough to ignite the most dangerous piece of real estate in Middle East. So the celebrity interviewer Rutherford Tyler has to get the interview of the businessman, and he is preparing a documentary on the tablet amidst vociferous protests and worse reactions.
Meanwhile, the CIA, along with some high-placed politicians, fear an elusive mercenary terrorist called Abu Nazer will use the tablet to fuel chaos and strife, every terrorist's dream. Abu Nazer burst into picture after murdering an American reporter and an Israeli vigilante named Aaron, and is now the most dreaded terrorist operating for money in the world. The CIA has to capture Abu Nazer before the terrorist escapes their net once again. Problem is, nobody has seen Abu Nazer, nor does anybody know whether they are looking for a man or a woman.
So it's upto CIA analyst Zoë Gustaves to identify and thus help the capture. Her only help is a profile created by her, full of holes and gaps. She is aided and abetted in her efforts by her superior Teague, and an office geek, Tony Cooke. But she first has to discover why Tyler wants the interview so badly. Meanwhile, unknown to her, a leak in her office can cause everything to go horribly wrong.
Zoë Gustaves is a rebel with spiked hair, piercings and tattoos. She has some conflicts with her mother, the Congresswoman, and as another Zoe (Carter in “Eureka”… those two should get on famously) would put it, “issues” with “authority” (imagine the appropriate hand gestures here). And although a great analyst, she is also quite impulsive, which leads to leaping before looking quite often. This actually puts her (and others') life in danger more than once. All in all, she is everybody's nightmare field agent.
Rutherford Tyler is an all-round nice guy, charitable, with contacts in highest places (he has a direct line to the VP), and extremely famous. It won't exactly hurt his fame to interview the finder of the tablet — the headline news everywhere — before it is authenticated, and once found ancient enough will probably cause WW-III. But having a dream assignment for any reporter doesn't mean you can't have your secrets.
Given the description, I was expecting a cross between Bourne Identity (an elusive mercenary terrorist) and Jack Ryan series by Tom Clancy (given the protagonist's occupation), with maybe a dash of Codex (ancient secret haunting modern lives). If that sounds like a mishmash of a lot of books, don't fear.
Once you get into the story, you are lulled into the comfortable position of “knowing everything,” and just when you think that the book isn't going anywhere surprising now, the shocks start, and go on till the epilogue. And although the hardcore thriller buff in you will expect that it is time for surprises, that doesn't harm the story or the suspense a bit.
The one slight crib I have with the book was that the book does not delve deeper into the personalities of the characters. I mean, you know (or at least you think you know) the background of Jason Bourne or Jack Ryan, and can understand most if not all decisions and actions. Admittedly doing that is not possible for some characters here without injuring the suspense, yet I cannot help but think that some of the characters could have been developed a bit more.
Of course, that does not mean that the book is any worse as a thriller, or that it does not leave you with the familiar feeling at the end of good mystery/thriller that “you see, but you do not observe.”