Book: “Agent X,” by Noah Boyd

“Agent X” (February 2011) is the second bestselling novel under the name Noah Boyd, which is a pen name of Paul Lindsey. Lindsey, who wrote a total of 7 novels, served as a Marine officer in Vietnam and then worked 20 years with the FBI. Unfortunately, he died at age 68 in September 2011 after a battle with leukemia. So this series may go no further.

Both Noah Boyd books revolve around former FBI agent Steve Vail, who now works as a freelance bricklayer in Chicago (thus the title of the first Boyd book, “The Bricklayer“). In both books, he gets dragged into complex criminal plots, and works alongside FBI agent and love interest Kate Bannon. They are an interesting team.

The defining characteristic of Vail is that he distrusts authority–especially in the FBI, which burned him. He’s the prototypical loner, the anti-establishment hero who gets things done by working outside the system. Think of a cerebral Dirty Harry with an FBI badge.

In Agent X, a Russian spy known as Calculus offers to give the FBI a list of Americans who are trading secrets to the Russians. Calculus is recalled to Moscow, a sign that he’s been found out. But Calculus left a series of cryptic clues–extremely cryptic–to the identities of the American traitors. The FBI needs to find these moles before the Russians start killing them off (to avoid embarrassment at being caught spying).

Vail comes to Washington DC to see Kate Bannon, and both are recruited for this urgent investigation. The American turncoats keep getting killed, and there are gun battles with the bad guys. But they keep at it.

The plot is quite complex. Calculus left very complicated clues, but Vail, of course, cracks them. However, things get so complicated that I, simpleton reader that I am, got confused at various stages. In some cases, I just gave up trying to keep things straight or understand what was happening, figuring it probably didn’t matter. And it didn’t. It would have been a better book, and much more believable, without this treasure hunt.

Paul Lindsey, aka Noah Boyd

Paul Lindsey, aka Noah Boyd

“Agent X” tells us a lot more about about Steve Vail, helping us understand why he is the way he is. That was nice. The relationship with Kate Bannon is quite back-and-forth and charged in this book (as it was, actually, in “The Bricklayer”), and for good measure Vail’s former partner, Luke Bursaw, is brought into the investigation. Through him, we learn a lot of Vail’s back story.

Boyd also uses much more dialogue, and tries to be witty in the banter between Vail, Bannon, and Bursaw. There is a kernel of cleverness in the dialogue, but too much of it sounds wooden, even corny. Like something I would write. Give the same conversation to Lee Child or Robert Parker, and it would work perfectly. Boyd is just terribly clunky with dialogue. I found myself cringing.

But he’s not clunky with pacing, or sparse when it comes to action. He gets too fancy, to the point of being confusing and unbelievable with the Calculus clues (which just weren’t necessary). But I could deal with that, because it was still a fun ride.

“Agent X” was a good book, but not as good as “The Bricklayer.” I only recommend it with some caveats. However, if Paul Lindsey had a third bricklayer book in the can before he died, I’ll probably read it.

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