Kirkus Review: Trading Salvos

Bell’s protagonist holds her own in her first outing and will surely be ready for more harrowing circumstances in a potential sequel.

A woman running a CIA safe house in Alaska garners unwelcome attention while trying to decipher a program written by her late software-engineer husband in this debut thriller.

It’s been several months since University of Alaska finance professor Kate Adams’ husband, Max, vanished in Singapore, only to later turn up dead from an apparent drowning. She decides to give herself closure by taking a sabbatical from the university to focus on a couple of research projects. Her CIA pal and former lover, Brad Oakley, however, has a different plan for her. They’d reunited in Washington, D.C., just prior to Max’s disappearance, and he now hopes to make Kate a CIA safe-house manager. She reluctantly agrees, mainly because the agency can provide data for her research as well as provide her with materials that were recovered during the investigation into Max’s death. She spends the bulk of her time at the somewhat isolated cabin, battling harsh weather, maintaining order (which isn’t an easy feat with some guests, including the abrasive Delgado), and tending to her vegetable garden. She finally peruses Max’s intricate computer program and links it to companies that are “major players in the financial industry” and make millions of trades daily. Then a group of mysterious men, looking for Kate, locates and attacks the safe house. Bell’s story thrives due its resolute protagonist. Although Kate rarely talks or thinks about Max (who’s more a catalyst than a character), she’s sympathetic as an introvert whose free-market stance during an economic crisis affords her few friends. Bell takes her time establishing the stellar, remote setting; indeed, Kate doesn’t delve into Max’s program until just past the story’s halfway point. She and Brad, however, stir up drama with their intimate relationship, as he visits the safe house often when dropping off guests. It soon becomes abundantly clear that someone’s spying on her at the cabin, and the intensity ramps up in the final act. nThere are also teases of potential future events, as when Kate, while ducking baddies, promises herself that she’ll someday buy and learn how to use a sniper rifle.


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