reviewed by Gail Byrd
A delightful romp around Macau with Teddy Fay, aka Billy Barnett, a Russian hit man and much more. Teddy is a master of disguise, in addition to being trained in all forms of martial arts, weaponry, and stunt performances.
His trip to Macau is unexpected, as he was on his way back to LA in his identity of Billy Barnett, his persona of movie producer. Though he never gives a complete history of his background, it is strongly implied he worked for the CIA, and, when his talents with that agency were honed to a fine point, he “quit” and now has a new career in films. Of course, he still does work in the field of espionage on an “as needed” basis with no stated connections to the government.
Jackpot is the first novel co-authored by Stuart Woods and Bryon Quertermous although there are some previous novels featuring Teddy that were co-authored with another writer. None of those previous stories are referenced in this novel and the story is complete within this book. In this novel, Teddy is called in by some friends in the film industry who have obtained a copy of a video showing their sons to be cheating at a Macau casino. Trouble is, the two young men were sitting in an office with their fathers at the time the video was supposedly being taped. Someone is trying to frame them, and Teddy’s friends want him to find out who and why.
The friends send Dale Gai to give him the message, and she is quick to demonstrate she has skills equal to Teddy’s as well as training and knowledge that normal individuals don’t have. It’s a constant source of frustration to Teddy that everywhere he needs to go, Dale Gai seems to be there one step ahead and with more information than even Teddy has. An uneasy partnership is formed between them as they begin to investigate who is behind the fake video. The more they investigate the more their work resembles peeling an onion; the removal of each layer yields another layer drawing them further into affairs in Macau.
The initial case Teddy and Dale begin to work features Li Feng, a Chinese national whose family owns a Chinese telecom company, active in the United States. This company poses significant competition to an American company run by Arrow Donaldson, a wealthy, corrupt American businessman also in telecommunications It is his plan to eliminate the competition by arranging with Li Feng to testify that her family is involved in using their communications company to spy on people through their equipment. In exchange, he will set her up with a new identity in the United States where she can fulfill her dreams of a life of wealth and privilege without government oversight. What Arrow doesn’t know is she also wants to destroy an old childhood acquaintance who is part of the film industry and associated with Teddy’s friends.
In contrast to these motivations of greed and personal satisfaction there is Teddy who is basically a good guy who likes to use his unique set of skills to help people who have been unfairly treated. The motivation for Dale Gai is less apparent. She seems to stay one step ahead of Teddy at every turn, knows everyone on the island, and has martial arts skills that match or best Teddy. Still, Teddy has always preferred to work alone and isn’t sure he can trust her. All that changes when it becomes apparent that Teddy needs help to get to the bottom of this case. As he is reaching this conclusion, there are several situations that offer Dale Gai an opportunity to be of help and to demonstrate she has good intentions where Teddy and his friends are concerned.
Teddy also calls on Millie, a friend he has within the CIA, to provide them with some assistance. Millie was also involved with the case as she has been trying to provide government security for Li Feng through her job at the CIA. Millie’s distrust of Arrow is deepened when she arrives in Macau to escort Li Feng to the US and is told Arrow has arranged for her to be guarded in a penthouse suite he owns. When Millie goes to meet Li Feng she realizes the woman in the suite is an imposter just before there is a drone attack on the penthouse which leaves the woman dead. Millie and her team only escape because she realizes a split-second before the attack and shoots the drone out of the sky. When Millie returns to her hotel to discuss these events with a committee that is overseeing the operation, she runs into classic issues many women who work in a traditionally male environment encounter being dismissed as “just a secretary.” The only reason she isn’t completely removed from the case is she had the foresight to call her FBI boyfriend who discovered the drone was hijacked from a US company, making the FBI in charge of the case. Once she is metaphorically sent on her way she is more than willing to help Teddy and prove her worth within the espionage community.
Jackpot is a well written, light, fast read with a satisfying conclusion. There are some physical encounters and stunts throughout the book with just enough detail to engage the reader but not so much that the reader gets inundated with blood and gore. The pacing is good with a plot that is well designed with new angles and information being incorporated in a seamless fashion that keeps the reader moving at a steady pace.
My thanks to G.P. Putnam Sons Publishing and NetGalley for providing me with an advanced digital read copy for review. The opinions expressed here are entirely my own.