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Writing under the pseudonym Sam Bourne, British journalist and broadcaster Jonathan Freedland, author of The Righteous Men and The Last Testament, is now out with his third thriller, The Final Reckoning. Like its predecessors, this new book takes the reader on a roller coaster of a ride over twisting conspiracies and treacherous plots, and just when you think you’ve got it all figured out, it turns our there’s another 90 foot drop around the next turn. Bourne is the kind of writer who likes to offer you the chair and then pull it out from behind as you start to sit down. So don’t think you know what’s going on, because you may have part of the story, but whatever you’ve got is likely to be a part only.
Set in New York and London, The Final Reckoning begins when a suspected terrorist is shot by a guard at the United Nations Building in response to an alert from the New York City terrorism unit. When it turns out that the terrorist is an elderly man in his seventies who seems to be a tourist from London, U.N. authorities, certain that they have made a colossal blunder and worried about blowback, call on an ex-employee to deal with the victim’s family and keep publicity damage to a minimum.
Tom Byrne, once a naive young lawyer working idealistically for the U.N. in areas where ethnic fighting had degenerated into atrocity mass extermination, and recognizing that justice for victims and punishment for the criminals was politically unlikely, has left the organization shorn of his illusions. Now much older and wiser, wiser to the point of cynicism, he is working a private practice in New York, dating models and taking on any client who has the money to make it worth his while. His current client, for example, is a mob family using his services to broker a deal in Dubai.
Tom is awakened on the morning of the shooting by a phone call from his old boss and good friend at the UN asking for his help, first keeping an eye on whatever investigation the NYPD is doing and then getting in touch with the victim’s family. Feeling some obligation to the man, Byrne agrees and his ride and that of the reader begins. It takes him to London where he meets the old man’s daughter, a doctor — an attractive doctor, and it is almost love at first sight. Very soon he discovers that the innocent elderly man, Gershon Merton, may have been elderly, but he may not have been all that innocent.
Turns out the man has been a member of a secret group of Holocaust survivors who have devoted their lives to revenge on those Nazi criminals who had managed to escape punishment after WWII. Now the question of what he was doing in New York arises. Byrne, together with the attractive daughter, sets out to find answers. And every answer they get seems to raise another question.
Embedded into their search is an account of Merton’s experiences as a boy during the Nazi occupation, what happened to his family in Lithuania, how he became involved with the Jewish underground, and his activities after the war ended. In a final note, the author points out that the material on the secret group of Jewish avengers is based on fact. Gershon Merton is actually an amalgamation of several men and his story is made of actual events in their lives. Indeed some of the most effective writing in the book is in the passages describing the Lithuanian pogrom, the slaughter of the Jews at the Ninth Fort, and the life in the ghetto.
The Final Reckoning alternates between the two stories, making sure to move from one to the other on the cusp of a cliffhanger. Readers of thrillers will not be surprised. Although there are times when the cliffhanging endings are a bit melodramatic, they are after all endemic to the genre. They are the rules of the game. Bourne plays by the rules, and as long as he does, you know what you’re going to get. You pay your money and you know what you’re going to get, and as long as you get what you paid for, there’s no cause for complaint. There is no question, Sam Bourne delivers the goods.