For the past thirty years, Stephen Mertz has been one of the top authors of action and adventure novels in the business, and he makes a welcome return with DRAGON GAMES, a thriller just published by Five Star.
Set in Beijing during the 2008 Summer Olympics, this novel features a large, well-drawn cast of characters and several interweaving plotlines, all of which wind up involving in one way or another Taggart McCall, one of the agents for the international force that’s been put together to provide security for the Olympics. McCall is a former member of the U.S. Secret Service with some dark clouds in his past and a pressing personal problem in the present: he’s been having severe chest pains and thinks he may be on the verge of dying from a heart attack at any moment. That’s certainly not the best situation for a hero who has to run around battling bad guys, solving murders, and uncovering sinister plots that threaten the stability of the entire world.
Taggart McCall is one of the most likable protagonists you’ll run across in a thriller, and almost as good is Kelly Jackson, a member of the U.S. gymnastics team with problems of her own. Mertz neatly avoids the trap of forcing a romance between McCall and the less-than-half-his-age Kelly. In fact, before the book is over he manages to upend a lot of the reader’s expectations, as the plot takes more than one unexpected twist and turn.
Smoothly written and fast-paced, DRAGON GAMES is a very entertaining novel. It has plenty of plot without being overstuffed and overwritten like some modern thrillers. Mertz still has the knack of keeping the reader turning the pages, and that’s the mark of a great storyteller. Highly recommended.