The author has kindly agreed to gift 2 ebooks and a signed paperback to three lucky winners, if you would like to win a copy, please leave a comment below. The Winner will be drawn on the 9th October!
One would think, with the above title, that this is a novel set in Paris in the Belle Epoque, a time in which far too many young men developed a permanent addiction for the ”green fairy” that lives in the Absinthe liqueur. Nothing could be further from the setting of this particular novel. Instead, the absinthe and chocolate are part of a ritual the main protagonist performs prior to perpetrating yet another act of violence – for the greater good.
Mr Amidei takes his time setting the scene. Various characters are introduced, while piece by piece Mr Amidei lays the foundation for his story. I must admit to finding the initial chapters of the novel somewhat slow – too much detail combined with an elaborate prose weighs down the narrative. Our main character, the attractive if deadly, Boone, spends more time sipping absinthe and writing poems than actually doing anything. Yet.
I would, however, urge readers to persevere. Mr Amidei has constructed a complex story, and the lengthy descriptions in the initial third of the novel are more than motivated by the rather explosive second half.
In Absinthe and Chocolate, the world of Intelligence has gone private. A former US agent has come up with a business model which, in principle, has turned that ancient art of spying upside down. Mr McAllen pays for intelligence – any intelligence – and his huge servers groan and moan under the weight of all the information stored in them. Individual little nuggets of, seemingly, irrelevant information, form patterns when set side by side, and Mr McAllen’s company quickly becomes an indispensable provider to all Intelligence Agencies worldwide. Not something these agencies appreciate. In fact, they’re all more or less upset by this new world order – all but the Americans, who can rely on McAllen never doing anything that could harm US interests.
Obviously, such a situation cannot go unchallenged. If nothing else, there are others who want a share of the profit generated by intelligence brokering – greed is one of those capital sins that really bring out the lesser person within. One young man in particular decides it is time to teach McAllen a lesson – and pad his own bank account – and when this young Saudi liaises with a Russian former GRU director, Absinthe and Chocolate truly takes off.
The storyline leaps from Virginia to Paris, from Paris to Bratislava to Geneva, to Moscow and Girona and New York. Sufficient detail is presented at each location to bring the reader along on the journey, and as the action increases, so does my pulse, especially as the author has built in a couple of double bluffs. Other than the enigmatic Boone, Absinthe and Chocolate presents a number of interesting characters, chief among them Sean Ritter and Thibaud Marseille. One is American, married to an Iraqi woman. The other is French and definitely unwed. Excellent operatives, these men are adept at taking lives – and have done so frequently throughout their careers. Both these men somehow reconcile what they do with a strong belief in God, a somewhat contradictory approach which results in interesting and complex characters.
Interestingly enough, one of the characters I found most fascinating was a certain Mikhail Ivanovitch Smolin, formerly GRU, these days expansive Russian business tycoon, who does not hesitate to start his day with vodka. Dangerous, intelligent and amusingly sardonic in what he says and thinks, Smolin regards the world with certain caution – but jumps at the chance of laying his anything but lily-white hands on McAllen’s digital empire. Smolin is a man with no illusions – not even about himself – which is why I found his internal dialogue one of the highpoints of this novel.
Smolin’s partners with the young Saudi Yameen al-Khobar. Just why al-Khobar carries a grudge the size of an elephant when it comes to McAllen is never adequately explained, but whatever his motivations, this young man is as lethal as a rattlesnake – except that he’s much quieter.
And as to Boone herself, this lean, mean fighting machine is your classic kick-ass heroine, as capable of drinking her male company under the table as executing a combination of kicks and punches that will leave them equally out of commission. It took this reader some time to warm to Boone – she is too aloof, too efficient, too untouchable. Fortunately, as the story progresses, Mr Amidei also allows us to see her vulnerability, her loneliness, and as the body count rises and danger threatens people she cares about Boone reveals herself as being as human as the rest of us – albeit with somewhat better control over her nerves and substantially better at deploying firearms.
In general, Mr Amidei has done a good job of creating distinctive voices for his various characters. Initially, I feel there are too many POV characters, which may be one of the reasons why the first few chapters are somewhat challenging – as a reader I don’t get the opportunity to truly bond with anyone before I am in someone else’s head. Once again, as the story gets going, this sensation of split personalities diminishes markedly – instead, the various POVs add to the intricate layers in Mr Amidei’s story.
There is a strong Christian undercurrent in this book – the author firmly believes that all of us are what we are and where we are in accordance to divine design. At times, this grates with me – at others, I find it refreshing that the author does not apologise for what he believes in. Other readers may be of a different opinion – depending on their respective values and beliefs.
Things end with a bang – as they should, in books of this genre. When the smoke clears, it seems good has vanquished the bad – but this reader fears this may not be the case. I am sure Mr Amidei will sort such issues in future instalments starring Becky Boone Hildegard. But unless you want to make close acquaintance with this formidable lady’s wicked blade, I suggest you call her Boone – only Boone.
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About the author
Mr Dale Amidei lives and writes on the wind- and snow-swept Northern Plains of South Dakota. Novels about people and the perspectives guiding their decisions are the result. His fiction features faith-based themes set in the real world, which is occasionally profane or violent. For more information about Mr Amidei and his books, why not visit his blogsite
Anna Belfrage is the author of eight published books, all part of the acclaimed The Graham Saga. Set in the 17th century, the books tell the story of Matthew Graham and his time-travelling wife, Alex Lind.