Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Spies, International Terrorists... and the Girl Reporter who Outfoxes Them All


It’s one of those sad facts of life: get enough young people together--say, at a college or university--and bad things are gonna happen now and then. Drunken revelries lead to aggressive behaviors and all manner of accidents. Pranks that seem like great fun turn out to be anything but harmless larks. And, kids who haven’t yet figured out a way to deal--with life, studies, the grim realities of an uncertain future, being different, or rejection--decide it’s easier to just end things... permanently.

Thus is the stage set for Mary Louise Kelly’s top-notch thriller, Anonymous Sources.


When Alexandra James--current go-to reporter responsible for the New England Chronicle’s university beat--gets the call, interrupting her summer evening plans, to dash over to Harvard for a breaking story, such is the type of scene she expects to find. Another dead college student who took a dive from a campus bell tower... he either got plastered and lost his footing with tragic results, or was depressed and chose to permanently rid himself of his demons, whatever they might have been. Either way, it doesn’t sound like much of a story, and Alex is more than a little annoyed at being called out (particularly as she’s wearing a very expensive--and totally impractical for racing around Boston’s streets--pair of spike heels).

Once she’s had a chance to poke around a little, though, she realizes this may not be quite what she'd thought. The dead young man is Thom Carlyle, son of one of the President’s chief legal aides at the White House--which automatically raises all sorts of red flags. A grad student who’d only just returned from spending a year abroad as an elite Cambridge Scholar, Thom was smart, athletic, successful, and popular--not the sort of guy who tends to off himself. But, there were only a couple of empty beer cans found in the bell tower from which he’d fallen, making a drunken miscalculation of balance seem equally unlikely. 

There is, of course, one additional possibility--that he was pushed--and the more Alex thinks about it, the more determined she is to figure out why.

With only conditional permission from her editor, Alex leaves the ivory towers of Harvard for a jaunt across the pond to the stately courtyards of Cambridge, England--the last place Thom had been, and where she hopes to find some answers. An ex-girlfriend (the oh-so-British-named party girl, Petronella)--along with her new boyfriend--may hold some answers, as may a scientist acquaintance, who also attended Thom’s last Cambridge bash.

As Alex interviews those who knew Thom, though, the less clear things seem. If Petronella broke his heart right before he returned to Boston, might Thom have been upset enough to jump, after all? Did his low law test scores--which he had yet to reveal to his family--play a part? How did someone who was no more than a casual acquaintance get into Thom’s locked dorm rooms after he’d left England... and what was the fellow searching for? And what on earth could the receipt for a huge produce shipment have to do with anything??

Getting back on the plane with little more than she’d left home, Alex prepares to try and make the best of the meager info she’s gained... but when another passenger on the flight is poisoned and Alex’s laptop is stolen, she realizes she’s somehow stumbled into something big. The trick will be figuring out what.

As she races around Washington, DC--attending meetings with everyone from Thom’s grieving lawyer dad to bigwigs from the CIA, FBI (and probably a few other alphabet groups, as well), and taking phone calls from spies and at least one terrorist--a horrible idea emerges: that an innocent young man with a promising future was murdered to hide a deadly conspiracy at the highest levels in the nation’s capitol... and that Alex, unbelievably, holds the keys to unlocking it all... if she can avoid the same fate long enough to do so.


The best thrillers, of course, live up to their name--they thrill--and Kelly’s Anonymous Sources does just that. Blending a couple of sub-genres--the investigative-reporter suspense and the traditional spy thriller, Kelly has created a fast-paced, exciting, and thought-provoking look at some of the problems encountered in today’s global arena.

Despite all of the juicy, authentic details Kelly uses (as a former NPR correspondent, this is a world she understands and knows how to write about), Anonymous Sources is a spy story with a difference--namely, Alex. She’s young--in her late 20s--and has little reporting experience of anything other than the campus beats, local municipal matters, and puff pieces. She has good instincts and learns quickly, but has next to no prior knowledge of the politics, ideologies, or science involved in this story. Nor is she a gun- (or other weapons-) toting badass; she’s an attractive woman (who enjoys being a woman) who finds herself in a series of impossible-to-prepare-for situations that she’s forced to deal with, on the fly. (She also has a deep, dark secret, which affects everything she does and lends an interesting--and emotional--counterpoint to the bigger tale.)

With stories like this under her belt, one thing is certain: Mary Louise Kelly won’t remain anonymous as an author for long. Anonymous Sources is truly a great read.
 

[Anonymous Sources will be released June 18, 2013.]