(hb; 1997: sequel to The Matarese Circle)
From the inside flap:
"The Matarese Circle. . . introduced a treacherous international cabal of powerbrokers and their hired assassins. More than twenty years ago, the top CIA and KGB agents joined together to ensure that, in an explosive act, the Matarese conspiracy went up in flames. . . but like a phoenix from the ashes, the terror has returned.
"Secret deals are in the making, massive mysterious transactions steeped in corruption and murder. The players stand at the highest pinnacles of global finance and government. It is an unprecedented consolidation of money, power and ruthlessness. Their ultimate aim: worldwide economic domination and all it entails. . . by whatever means necessary.
"The Matarese dynasty is back in all its glory and evil. And the one man with enough knowledge to stop it, case officer Cameron Pryce, may not have enough time. The Matarese countdown has begun and Pryce's only chance to cut it off is to follow the trail of blood money and stone-cold killers to the heart of this deadly conspiracy.
"From the Hamptons to Monte Carlo to London's Belgrave Square, Matarese assassins have already struck with brutal efficiency, eliminating all who stand in their way. But on Spain's Costa del Sol, one victim survived enough to breathe these dying words: 'Find Beowulf Agate' - words that reverberate all the way to CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. Beowulf Agate is the code name for legendary retired agent Brandon Scofield, the only man ever to penetrate the Matarese and survive. . ."
Countdown is initially lighter in tone - after all, Brandon Scofield has been retired and happily married for twenty years on an island paradise - but the action, rapidly rising body count (shown for the horror that it is) and plot twists start on page one and don't let up until the last page, in true Ludlumesque fashion.
Other elements that leaven Countdown (compared to Circle) are the increases instances of snappy but often friendly banter between many of the characters, a good number of whom took part in the events of the first novel.
This is a good follow-up to Circle; timely, too, considering our current global financial crises, though I would like to think that the Matarese had nothing to that.
Check it out.