Thriller author Jeffrey Abbott’s latest, his fourth featuring Sam Capra, is a moody, often complicated story that places the former CIA agent in a situation where he questions nearly everything, both personal and professional, he once believed in. INSIDE MAN succeeds in capturing our attention and maintaining it through the end – even when things get too complicated for their own good.
To most people, Sam Capra owns and operates a few bars across the country, the latest being a small dive in the Coconut Grove section of Miami. What most people don’t know is that Capra works for the Round Table, a secretive U.S. intelligence organization that recruited Capra when he resigned from the CIA.
Capra best friend Steve suspects that Capra is not all he appears, and is about to hire Capra to help protect his latest client, a beautiful young woman named Cordelia. But before Capra learns any of the details, Steve is shot dead outside the bar.
Intent on avenging the death of his friend, Capra assumes the identity of Sam Chevalier and accompanies Cordelia to her family mansion in Puerto Rico. Capra soon discovers that Cordelia is the daughter of Reynaldo Varelas, whose air shipping company has made him rich and powerful. As the elder Varelas is about to divide his business and fortune among Cordelia and her other siblings from the various Varelas marriages, an attempt is made on the elderly Reynaldo’s life.
As he slowly gains the begrudging trust of the Varela family, Capra suspects that a shadowy “underside” business is the cause of all their troubles. But that underside business and it consequences may be much bigger than Capra knows, and at every moment he risks blowing his inside cover and facing death by the Varelas family.
Abbott opens the novel with a dark, foreboding mood of deception in the moments leading to Steve’s murder. This aura continues through the chases and other action that follows, up to the moment when Capra decides to assume his role as an inside man.
Then the mood changes somewhat and the narrative slows a bit as Capra arrives at the Varelas compound and learns about the rest of Cordelia’s family. At times it seems that Abbott looses track of his story in the midst of all the various and complicated details of the Varelas brothers, sisters, and their spouses. He often resorts to long passages of dialogue between Capra and one of the Varelas to convey this information.
As if assuming a false inside identity was threatening enough, further complication arises when Capra faces the mistrust of his own Round Table employers, who fear Capra has gone rogue and are reluctant to assist him. And as he approaches each moment of doubt and mistrust, Capra recalls his own family experiences and the various training mentors who made him what he is.
Fortunately, just as it seems Abbott is about to drown his protagonist in whirlpool of suspicion, intricate family jealousies and in-fighting, Capra discovers the long-held secret of the Varles fortune. This kicks the story back into high-gear and this reinvigorated pace carries the novel to its conclusion.
Thriller fans who prefer action over intricacies will probably give up on what, for a large part of Abbott’s latest, feels like an overly complicated soap opera about a rich and powerful family. Yet Capra’s first-person narration, with its frequent moments of introspection and self-realization, are what makes these passages worth while.
So while it may not be the strongest in the series, INSIDE MAN is worth the effort for Abbott’s evocative style and his effective portrayal of a man holding too many secrets at one time. —Alan Cranis