This suspenseful international crime novel from Canadian writer (now a Brooklynite) Emily St. John Mandel is a tight mystery with a good cast of characters, and a believable plot. Anton Waker grew up amongst shady characters: his parents (Samuel and Miriam) run a stolen goods operation, specializing in collectables. His cousin Aria has partnered up with Anton to deal in forged social security cards and passports. But Anton more and more wants to go legit, and so he leaves this corrupt world behind him and (with the help of a fake Harvard diploma), he buries himself in the anonymity of a middle manager in New York. But when an innocuous background check snares Anton, his cover is blown.
State Department bulldog Alexandra Broden sets about to bring Anton and Aria down. She recruits Anton’s secretary Elena (she has ‘stuff’ on her) to spy, report and wear a wire. After the background check, Anton suddenly finds himself in a Kafkaesque situation. He’s a real Nowhere Man, but remains on the payroll, with no duties, no office. When he’s relegated to “dead storage” rooms on the lower floors, Elena begins to visit and resume their trysts that had been going on almost since he started working there. Anton had hired Elena to be his secretary, one of his former passport “clients”. However, this time Elena is being forced to betray Anton. Anton is also involved in a strange engagement to a musician with the New York Philharmonic. Sophie Berenhardt breaks off the wedding twice. Invitations have to be recalled. The third times a charm though and they finally get married and take off for their honeymoon on the Mediterranean island of Ischia. Too much baggage has already accumulated though, and when the honeymoon is over, Anton elects to stay, effectively ending their marriage. Elena soon takes her place.
Aria had blackmailed him into “one last favor” however, telling him he’ll be free from her forever after completing it. Her blackmail had been endorsed by his parents, much to his dismay. After all, they say, “she’s family”. The mysterious job takes a strange turn of events and the turn is a surprising and thoroughly satisfying twist. Mandel is a fine writer, and I enjoyed this novel very much.