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The Middleman

Oleg Steinhauer
In Print
Minotaur Books (2018)

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This entry created 17 February 2021. Last revised on 17 February 2021.

1,406 hits since 18 Feb 2021
©1994-2024 Bill Armintrout
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The Middleman

Fiction. Hardback. 360 pages.

Book Jacket:

One day in the early summer of 2017, about four hundred people disappear from their lives. They leave behind cell phones, credit cards, jobs, houses, families – everything – all on the same day. Where have they gone? Why?…

As the novel begins, Kevin Moore gets the phone call and accepts a ride with a stranger, leaving his old life behind, trusting that his new life will contribute to change in America.

Meanwhile, at a house party in New Jersey, frustrated novelist David Parker takes offense when his wife, socially conscious Ingrid, takes a special interest in Martin Bishop, leader of a new liberal movement called the Massive Brigade. When David punches Martin, tough Ben Mittag tosses David aside and conducts Martin away – Ben's said to be the radical second-in-command of the movement.

Minutes later, the police arrive looking for Martin and Ben. According to rumor, the Massive Brigade is stockpiling weapons – but now a tip has led law enforcement to a storage unit containing a Stinger missile. It's time to bring them in – but they're disappeared. And then Ingrid does too.

The FBI is not convinced the Massive Brigade is a significant threat, but they bring in Special Agent Rachel Proulx to lead the investigation. She's been keeping track of Martin Bishop and the Massive Brigade for several years (and starting over after a divorce from an abusive husband). With a limited budget and resources, can she solve the mystery of what is going on? Are Bishop's ties to German radicals significant? Who is the multi-lingual mystery man who takes a special interest in Martin? Why does the financing trace back to an old woman in Australia? Who is orchestrating the assassinations?

Start your own revolution and cut out the middleman.
– Billy Bragg

Readers may be surprised when everything seems resolved halfway through the novel… then flash forward eight months. Special Agent Proulx is now a pariah at the FBI and survivor of an assassination attempt… what went wrong, and why is the upcoming publication of the official report stirring up so much trouble?

One amazing thing about this novel is that, though it was published in 2018, it feels solidly locked into the real-life events of 2019 and 2020 (well, except for the pandemic). The author tries to be even-handed to both political parties by making negative comments about both, and the U.S. President is unnamed and off-screen though obviously You-Know-Who. The FBI is depicted as bureaucratic: superb agents led by incompetents (but no names are named and no recent real-life events are mentioned).

Can you game it? This is mostly an investigative/suspense novel, but there's one major shoot-out that might inspire a scenario if you make it more balanced.

This was another novel that I wasn't overly impressed with. It gets off to a good start, a real mystery… and there's a real twist in the story… but it's one of those stories where the reader is frustrated that the protagonists can't figure it out! You have to accept that Special Agent Proulx makes two unprofessional decisions in a row (come on!). The conclusion was a let-down and morally ambiguous, and I never found any of the characters (or their marital problems!) that interesting.

So only a mild recommendation on this one. You might like it. Has a few good ideas in there.

Reviewed by Personal logo Editor in Chief Bill The Editor of TMP Fezian.