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Review: The Counsel of the Cunning
Norm Goldman --  bookpleasures.com Norm Goldman -- bookpleasures.com
Montreal, QC
Tuesday, December 7, 2021


Author: Steven C. Harms

Publisher: Suspense Publishing

ISBN: 978-0-578-93379-5

What an unpredictable thriller! Novelist Steven C. Harms in The Counsel of the Cunning plops us down in Milwaukee, where we first encounter Detective Roger Viceroy. His Midwest Region Special Crimes Unit has been shut down owing to budget cuts. This is despite the agency's successes, including the prevention of a former governor's assassination and the arrest of her criminal husband.

Viceroy ponders a few opportunities where he can use his detective skills. These are put aside when a former wealthy United States Senator, Jürgen Sandt, shows up on his doorsteps. Sandt makes a terrific offer for Viceroy to come and work for him with his colleagues Regina Cortez and Trevor "Silk" Moreland. They would function as Sandt's own detective agency and work from Sandt's estate.

Their assignment would be to find Sandt's son, Bertram. He vanished without a trace ten years ago while on a mission trip in the jungles of Guatemala. Although there is merely circumstantial evidence, Sandt is convinced that Bertram is still alive.

We learn that someone had recently left a pouch that was pinned on the gate of his estate. Viceroy knows from Sandt that he gave his son a bookmark before boarding the plane for Guatemala. The satchel belonged to someone named Theo Gandy, and it contained the damaged bookmark.

Gandy had been dispatched to Guatemala to find Bertram, and he likewise has perished. The bookmark was damaged, but a part remained with a cross and scripture writings around the edges containing a few legible words, notably, "Therefore go" and "Spirit."

Viceroy arranges with someone he knows to place him on a cargo plane to sneak into Guatemala without detection. The aircraft will include a small group of passengers who are part of a mission team to help the poor and evangelize. The missionaries would not be aware of his presence.

Little does Viceroy, Regina, and Silk know with the events that follow what awaits them when they agree to take on the assignment. Their search for Sandt's missing son will involve two continents, and will include a significant drug operation, murder, a dangerous plot that will affect millions of people, mixed in with billions of dollars.

The team is led into territory that intersects with a potent weird drug called "screed," the most potent narcotic on the planet. It is a kind of berry, and you are immediately hooked on it when you inhale it.

Into the picture is a devious character, who has hatched an ingenious plan where a world-class scientist in biomedical engineering is kidnapped. The scientist's passion is molecular manipulation.

While in confinement, she is compelled to develop a unique drug that would help "screed" addicts tolerate their addiction but never cure it. The economic importance of this new drug is limitless, especially if you can have a pharmaceutical company gain exclusive worldwide distribution rights. The business model was to hook those of wealth and then ransom their life. Pay up or die.

To help him in his search for Bertram, Sandt directs Viceroy to approach Cesar Quintero, a highly regarded Guatemalan social and unofficial political and industrial lobbyist in Washington.

Supposedly, Quintero would facilitate the team bypassing traditional channels and keep the search undercover. The challenge on Viceroy's mind concerning Quintero is his reliability? Is he somehow entangled in the disappearance of Bertram? `

When Viceroy meets with Quintero, he brings up the name "The Ghost of Guatemala." Quintero chuckles and points out to Viceroy that urban folklore has very little relevance on the search for Bertram. He would waste his time to even contemplate that such a character exists or is implicated in Bertram's disappearance.

What we have is a haunting and bloodcurdling story where Harms has skillfully woven two strong plot lines that we believe in every detail and landscape. There is a great deal to challenge readers to piece together what is happening and figure out how the dots will be connected. As the stakes become higher, Harms summons excellent tension and suspense requiring close attention. The unthinkable is alarmingly plausible, which invites questioning and the "what if" scenario.

The insertion of several diverse characters into the plot requires a fair amount of concentration to keep them sorted out and figure out their respective roles in the plot twists.

Follow Here To Read Norm's Interview With Steven C. Harms


 Norm Goldman of Bookpleasures.com

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