2020 Silver Falchion Finalist

The Mask of Midnight by Laurie Stevens

The Gryphon Heist
by James R. Hannibal

Oceanview Publishing
ISBN 978-0800737139
Publication Date: Sept 3, 2019
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The Gryphon Heist

Review by G. Robert Frazier

The Gryphon Heist by James R. Hannibal has been compared to Ocean’s Eleven meets Mission Impossible, and that’s a more than adequate comparison. Certainly, the wide range of characters – each with specialized skills and attributes – are there, as are the thrills and twists associated with such thrillers. Like those movies, I could easily visualize this novel coming to life on the big screen.

Heist starts in typical thriller fashion as we are introduced to protagonist Talia Inger in a Star Trek-like “kobyashi maru” final exam of her CIA training. She fails (Captain Kirk, as you know, cheated), but shows enough ingenuity and determination that she makes a favorable impression. Her reward: an assignment to Other, a literal hole-in-the-wall division nestled in a sub-sub-basement at CIA headquarters.

Not exactly what she was expecting.

Talia, though, makes enough waves in the days that follow that she wins a field assignment: to evaluate the security measures of a Moldovan executive developing a new defense technology. She’s coupled (or should I say hog-tied) with a freelance civilian partner, Adam Tyler, to assist her, though she’s more than wary of Tyler’s true purpose on the mission.

After an attack on the facility by a suspected international terrorist known only as Lukon, Talia is surprised to learn the defense designs are safely stored on the Gryphon, a high-tech aircraft roving in the mesosphere above earth.

Together with a hastily assembled team of uniquely qualified individuals – a pilot, a grifter, a tech geek, and others — Talia launches a bold plan to steal the designs in mid-flight to keep them out of enemy hands. But treachery and double-crosses abound and it isn’t long before Talia suspects Tyler may not be as innocent as he seems and wonders if he is, in fact, the notorious Lukon himself.

A former tactical deception officer and stealth pilot, Hannibal draws on his own expertise and familiarity with covert operations to bring a level of verisimilitude to the novel. A fair dose of cyber-tech jargon is cleverly weaved into the explosive action.

While I am was a bit dubious that a rookie CIA agent would be thrust into the middle of such an intense, high-stakes adventure on her very first field assignment – and I didn’t like that a main character is linked to the death of her father years ago (too coincidental or contrived for my liking) — I didn’t let either of those factors stop me from enjoying the novel as a whole. There’s too much action and intrigue here to let a few little nit-picky things like that get in the way.

Hannibal writes with such skill and authenticity – as well as emotion – that you are immediately wrapped up in the tale at hand. A sequel, Chasing the White Lion, is already on bookshelves (and in my to-be-read stack), so readers should hurry and get in on the ground floor of this new series now. It’s definitely worth the ride.

G. Robert Frazier is a former newspaper reporter and editor. He reviews books for Killer NashvilleBookPage, Chapter 16, and his blog. He has served as a script reader for both the Austin Film Festival and Nashville Film Festival screenwriting competitions and is a member of the Tennessee Screenwriting Association.