Monday, January 7, 2013

A Review of The K Street Affair by Mari Passananti

 (Rutland Square Press, Boston, MA, 2013; ISBN: 9780985894603) by Joey Madia
Mari Passananti’s The K Street Affair is a well-paced and everything-but-the-kitchen-sink action-adventure featuring a first-person perspective from lawyer-turned-amateur-agent Lena Mancuso. Use of the first person is unusual in the spy/terrorism genre, and it took a little while for me to adjust to it, but it does not deter from the overall success of the novel and in the end, provides some benefits to the way the tale unfolds.
The story begins with a terrorist bombing in Washington, DC and quickly escalates and broadens to involve a high-powered law firm, a multi-national corporation, several front organizations, and high-level politicians in Saudi Arabia, Russia, and the United States, all vying for economic and global power. Add in the FBI and a sudden murder of someone very close to Lena and we are taken along on a fast-paced ride through the geo-political world of offshore accounts, high-tech spying, assassination-machinations, and U.S. diplomatic over-reliance on a “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” mentality.
Passananti’s reluctant heroine does her best to stay centered and sane as the tension and intrigue mount. As she struggles to cope with tragedy and danger, she comments on the condition of her hair, the make of her borrowed boots, and the quality of food and drink. To the author’s credit, this somehow adds to, rather than detracts from, the realism of the novel.
In general, Passananti does an able job of crafting a suitably exaggerated but still plausible series of events, and she explains highly complex entities like offshore banks and front corporations with the light touch that comes from a thorough understanding of the research she undertook.
The K Street Affair is packed with surprising turns, plenty of tension, and some pointed (and for this reader, enjoyable) digs on real entities and people, with names of corporations and descriptions of some politicians just thinly veiled enough to keep the reader guessing as to whom she based them on.
Another aspect of the novel that I enjoyed was Passananti’s choice to not turn Lena into a martial-arts spymaster as she progressed through the story. Lena’s natural instincts and abilities, while challenged and sharpened, were not absurdly enhanced during the course of her experiences.
There is plenty of action—and some subtly scribed sex as well—that keeps things interesting, strategically breaking up the denser legal and high-finance sections.
Prior to 9/11 I was an avid reader of these types of novels—especially Tom Clancy’s—but on September 12, 2001, I took several shelves’ worth of them to the dumpster in back of my apartment. In the blink of an eye, the world these authors had described as fantasy suddenly became all too real.
Passananti’s novel—like many of the spy-genre films I’ve seen since that time—has just enough tongue-in-cheek sensibility to keep it fun amidst the larger and very real evil at work in the world.
As I read The K Street Affair I couldn’t help but feel like this was the first of a possible series of Lena Mancuso adventures, and I was not proven wrong, although the set-up for the next one was not what I thought it would be.
I look forward to a sequel.

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