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A casual glance at the cover of Christopher Reich's latest novel, MATTERHORN, might lead one to assume that he or she is looking at a piece about mountain climbing. But after a closer, more careful look, that potential reader would spy a helicopter and maybe some angry-looking red-orange clouds --- perhaps orange for fireworks and red for blood. This book IS about the art, skill and danger of climbing. However, it's also about the art, skill and danger of spying --- killing with impunity, morality or lack of same, passion or apparent lack of same, and the reality of pursuing whatever means are necessary to achieve one's ends, be they for good, evil, riches or pure power.

Reich's suspenseful novel is fairly bursting with information about spy craft and clearly demonstrates his unquestionable talent for creating excitement, believable action and characters about whom we come to care. Short, sharp sentences, shorter crisp phrases, and snappy and incisive dialogue and narration fill every page and offer a satisfying mixture of pictures of human dignity, human indecency, ultra-questionable morality, self-destructive passion, biting humor, self-discipline, courage and even sincere patriotism --- in some cases.

"Reich's fascinating and clever achievement here is the creation of a hero and villain who are nearly perfect mirror images of each other.... MATTERHORN is an entirely impressive presentation of spy craft and spy-novel expertise."

Known first to the reader as the old, lonely, small-town resident Robbie Steinhardt, and later as ex-CIA uber-agent Mac Dekker, our protagonist learns that his son, Will, has died of an apparent suicide or accident after a fall from the side of a mountain --- the Matterhorn, of course. We had read of this fatality, along with the death of Will's lover, Marina Zhukova, at the beginning of the novel. Mac suspects that they were neither suicides nor accidents, and his suspicion is confirmed quickly. Murder is in the mountain air.

It turns out that Will also was a CIA operative, and Marina had joined him in plotting against her native Russia. They had information about a Russian government plot to murder thousands of Europeans with a new poison that would prove untraceable and unstoppable. It’s the perfect attack: deadly, unattributable and the perpetrators' deeds unaccountable.

In addition to Mac and the deceased Will and Marina, there are several very important characters, all of whom are essential to the unfolding of the plot and are carefully and skillfully drawn. The most significant one is Ilya Ivashka, Mac's closest boyhood friend, colleague in the CIA and mountain-climbing adventures, and, finally, turncoat, traitor, Russian spy and cold-blooded murderer. Other notable individuals are Colonel Alexandra Zaitseva, Ilya's commanding officer; Dr. Ashok Mehta, the creator of the deadly Russian bioweapon; Jane McCall, a courageous CIA officer; Cal Thorpe, Jane's CIA boss; and Ava Attal --- introduced late in the novel --- an Israeli hero and love interest for both Mac and Ilya. And that interest turns out to be one of the most intriguing plot elements.

So the plot, which is complicated and full of characters and surprises but is never confusing, includes a plethora of normal spy-novel developments, situations and action sequences: murders and other deaths; heroic daredevil adventures performed by both heroes and villains; death-defying leaps from tall buildings (never in a single bound!); mountain-climbing episodes (also death-defying, to be sure); disgusting and gruesome immoral behaviors; passionate relationships, which according to CIA rules and traditions are always taboo and never inconsequential; a suspenseful and action-filled (to say the least) climactic struggle; and a satisfying denouement that can qualify as an almost-but-not-quite entirely happy ending.

Reich's fascinating and clever achievement here is the creation of a hero and villain who are nearly perfect mirror images of each other. Mac and Ilya, formerly best friends, are both superagents and near super-men --- powerful, brilliant, sometimes brutal and obsessed. Ilya has two goals: (1) to find the flash drive Will had hidden that details the Russian surprise attack, and to do so before Mac can get his hands on it, so that Ilya can ensure the deaths of thousands, and (2) to kill Mac. Mac also has two goals: (1) to find the flash drive before Ilya does in order to save those thousands of lives, and (2) to kill Ilya. They are a perfect dramatic match.

That contest and all the adventures surrounding it, as well as the characters involved, make for an intentionally nerve-racking and surprising piece of "high" adventure, which, of course, begins and ends on the Matterhorn. MATTERHORN is an entirely impressive presentation of spy craft and spy-novel expertise.

Reviewed by Jack Kramer on April 5, 2024

by Christopher Reich

  • Publication Date: April 1, 2024
  • Genres: Fiction, Suspense, Thriller
  • Hardcover: 347 pages
  • Publisher: Thomas & Mercer
  • ISBN-10: 1662516541
  • ISBN-13: 9781662516542