The Fourth Courier by Timothy J. Smith - Poland in 1992 is an unsettled country as it adjusts to the collapse of the Communist government.
FBI agent, Jay Porter, is sent to assist Polish police in investigating the deaths of three men. Traces of radiation have been found on their hands. It is thought they were couriers but what was the radioactive material they transported. It is likely they came from Russia.
Director Basia Husarska is in charge of the investigation. Detective Leszek Kulski is the lead police officer.
All the bodies are found along the Vistula River. Their killer has wanted them found. There is a distinctive slash on the cheek of each victim.
There is little evidence. No one saw the murders. The victims carry no identification. Despite circulating photos around Poland no one has identified them.
Serbian General Dravko Mladic has a dream. With civil wars breaking out in the former Yugoslavia he wants to restore Serbia to its historic borders and be the man to lead the nation.
Russian nuclear physicist, Sergej Ustinov, has access to bomb grade uranium, the knowledge to build an atomic bomb and an intense desire to leave the confines of Russia for the freedom of the Western World.
Life in post-Communist Eastern Europe is dreary and chaotic as nations adjust to new politics and a new economy. Money is scarce and the future is filled with uncertainty. Adapting to freedom is difficult.
Mladic is a dangerous zealot ready to use one or more atomic bombs to achieve his dream of a resurgent Serbia led by himself. At the same time he has a conflicted sexuality and enjoys torture.
The home lives of the major characters except Kulski are in turmoil. I wish a few of them could have had average families.
What Smith handles best in the book is treachery. I expected devious characters but was surprised by who was untrustworthy.
Porter is a clever man who learned some Polish before leaving America and works to add to his knowledge of the language in Poland. He is principled. Personally he left behind a messy marital breakup.
Can Kuksi and Porter find the bomb before it leaves Poland?
With no one to be trusted and the authorities closing in, the villains are in their own race against discovery.
Tension builds but does not crest. I never felt the danger needed for a thriller. A blurb suggested The Fourth Courier was a book for Alan Furst fans. There was a comparative atmospheric feel of a Furst book but Furst wisely does not write about potential cataclysmic consequences.
The plot was unpredictable. The personal interactions of the characters were predictable.
Several of the interactions and conversations involving members of the American embassy felt implausible.
The Fourth Courier is a pretty good book.