Isaacs, Susan. Past Perfect.

NY: Simon & Schuster, 2007.

Fifteen years ago, when native New Yorker Katie Schottland was still idealistic (well, more idealistic than she is now), she combined her love of spy novels and her degree in economics with a desire to serve her country by going to work for the CIA — not as a spy but as an analyst in the “intelligence” part of the business. And she not only loved her job, she did it well — until one day, after not quite two years, she was abruptly fired and escorted out of Langley. “I have a right to know why,” she insisted. “No, you don’t,” they replied.

And that was it. After failing to find another job (being fired by the CIA doesn’t do your employment prospects any good at all), and not wanting to depend too heavily on her new husband’s income, she sat down to write her own spy novel. Being Katie, it came out lighthearted and tongue-in-cheek. And it sold well. And then a cable TV company approached her about doing Spy Guys as a series, with her as the writer. That was six years ago and the show (which she knows perfectly well will never be nominated for an Emmy) is reasonably popular and Katie is enjoying her new career. Her husband, a terrific guy, is veterinary pathologist at the Bronx Zoo. Life is good. But still, in the back of her mind, is always the nagging question: Why in the hell was I fired from the CIA? Then she gets a call from an old “shopping friend” from her time at the Agency, sounding frightened and pleading for help and promising, in return, to tell her the reason she was sacked. And then nothing more is heard. Thus begins what Katie comes to think of as her Big Adventure. Can she find her friend? Can she find out if she herself is now in danger? Can she find out why she was fired? Katie deprecates her memory but knows she has certain analytical skills, and her TV show has an ex-CIA guy as a consultant whom she can go to — not to mention getting advice from her psychiatrist mother, her cooking-utensil entrepreneur father, and her poet sister, all of whom are interesting characters. (Isaacs is always very good at characters.) There are certain points when the plotline creaks a little, and it develops way too slowly in the first half of the book. A reader new to Isaacs may run out of patience before things really begin to happen, but I’ve read enough of her work to give her the benefit of the doubt. And I was justified because ultimately it’s a not-bad yarn. Far from her best work, but okay.

However, speaking as an editor of several decades’ experience, I have to say one thing about this book really bugs me: Chapter One. Two-and-a-half pages of glaringly over-the-top foreshadowing. No creative writing instructor would have let her get away with so cheap an effect. I strongly advise any potential reader to simply tear those couple of pages out of the book — unread — and start with Chapter Two, which is where the story actually begins.

Published in: on 6 May 2011 at 6:42 am  Leave a Comment  
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