Radiant Angel

By Nelson DeMille

Grand Central.

308 pages. $28.

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Reviewed by Paul Davis

nolead ends In Radiant Angel, Nelson DeMille's latest thriller, John Corey targets the resurgent Russians, in a change of pace from the usual Middle Eastern terrorists. Corey, a tough, wisecracking, and irreverent retired NYPD homicide detective turned contract federal agent, has left the New York Anti-Terrorist Task Force for the Diplomatic Surveillance Group. He and his team are assigned to follow a Russian named Vasily Petrov, who is posing as a diplomat. Petrov is a colonel in the SVR, the Foreign Intelligence Service that took over espionage duties from the old KGB.

"Col. Petrov lives in a big high-rise in the upscale Riverside section of the Bronx," narrator Corey tells us. "The building, which we call the 'plex - short for complex - is owned and wholly occupied by the Russians who work at the U.N. and the Russian Consulate, and it is a nest of spies. The 'plex itself, located on a high hill, sprouts more antennas than a garbage can full of cockroaches."

Petrov is a special case. His father is a former KGB general who was once head of SMERSH, the assassination arm of Soviet intelligence. Following in his father's bloody footsteps, Petrov is a ruthless killer. He is suspected of murdering political enemies of Russian President Vladimir Putin and of running a mass-execution program of Chechen civilians suspected of aiding the rebels.

Next to Corey in his surveillance car is a young, attractive teammate named Tess Faraday. Corey feels Kate Mayfield - his wife and FBI partner in crime-fighting in previous thrillers - looking over his shoulder from her Washington office. As the partners sit and watch the Russians, Faraday peppers the older, more-experienced Corey with questions and pleas for advice. Corey has a good tip: Borrow money from fellow agents; that will give them incentive to keep you alive in a gun battle.

When Petrov and companions drive out to a party at the Long Island estate of a Russian billionaire, in violation of their diplomatic travel restrictions, Corey and his team follow.

DeMille, a former U.S. Army officer who saw combat in Vietnam, did extensive research on seaport security for this thriller; a threat to New York Harbor is key to the plot. Radiant Angel is fast-paced and exciting, with amusing commentary and sarcastic asides from Corey. He's a loose cannon. But as DeMille has said in interviews, sometimes, a loose cannon is the only way to win a battle.

Paul Davis' Crime Beat column and crime fiction are at www.pauldavisoncrime.com. Contact him at daviswrite@aol.com