The latest novel by the veteran author ( If Tomorrow Comes, etc.) is a fast-paced thriller. Upon taking office, idealistic President Paul Ellison inaugurates the ``people-to-people'' program, intended to establish America's ties with Iron Curtain countries. Instead of naming an experienced diplomat as ambassador to Romania, Ellison selects wholesome Mary Ashley, instructor of Eastern European political science at Kansas State University. Mary initially declines the post, but after her husband dies in a suspicious car crash, she warily accepts Ellison's offer in an attempt to quell her overwhelming grief. Unwittingly, Mary has placed herself in peril, for a sinister covert organization of right- and left-wing tycoons and politicians called Patriots for Freedom intends to abort Ellison's project by lethal means. To kill Mary in Romania, these code-named extremiststheir identities aren't divulged until the novel concludeshire Angel, a terrorist infamous for for barbarity, skill, and dedication. Sheldon's characterizations are slick but involving, and the action escalates to an electrifying final scene. Adding depth are descriptions of harsh Romanian life, the agony of widowhood and the foreign service initiation process. (February 10)
In the world of political intrigue and espionage Sheldon's work is far from Le Carre or even Ludlum. But he can spin a fast-moving tale and give it a few twists. Here an international cabal of politically powerful right- and left-wingers seeks to destroy President Paul Ellison's plan to strengthen relations with Iron Curtain countries. Ellison's program is to start in Romania, and for ambassador he selects Mary Ashley, political science professor, wife, and mother who has seldom been outside Kansas in her 35 years, but whose writing has caught Ellison's eye. Sheldon strains credulity severely along the way, notably in murders masked as accidents, and Ashley's gaffes on the Washington diplomatic scene are glaringly inconsistent with her shrewd negotiating in Bucharest a few months later. But the story speeds along and the epilogue is a chiller. Michele Leber, Fairfax Cty. P.L., Va.