MONTE RIO centers on four “harmless goofballs,” known as the Russian River Society of Pirates and Thieves, who revel in a big kid game of espionage played with state-of-the-art surveillance equipment.
Each summer, the Pirates spy on wealthy elite members and guests of San Francisco’s Bohemian Club during their annual gathering amid old-growth redwoods at the Club’s private campground. Bohemian Grove is in the “backyard” of the Pirates’ tiny hometown of Monte Rio. Club, campground, and community are real as is the annual bash, its secretive nature, and the political protesters it attracts. The novel depicts billionaires and world leaders glamping on a grand scale with private chefs and the freedom to indulge in bad behavior. Instead of having an “axe to grind” with the Bohos, the Pirates enjoy pitting “wits against the multitude of government agencies” who secure Bohemian Grove. The FBI is alone in viewing the Pirates’ skills as an opportunity instead of a risk. So, FBI Agent Teddy Swan coerces them into working with his agency.
Teddy is one of the novel’s many well-defined and appealingly quirky characters. He’s covered with tattoos, wears his blond hair in Rasta braids, and willingly dresses in pirate costume for a boat journey to Bohemian Grove’s beach along with the Pirates unofficial leader, Butler, a former Vietnam War sniper who is nonviolent and still nimble enough to climb redwoods at 70. Another crew member is the Pirates’ money man — a huge, jolly, former linebacker and millionaire Silicon Valley retiree who looks like Forest Whitaker. “Radio geek,” Jeremy, is a bib-overall-clad, supermarket produce manager who wouldn’t mind getting arrested by the NSA so he can ask equipment questions. The team’s data tracker is high school math teacher Philip, a 30-year-old pothead going on 18. The story’s arch villain is Señor Silva, an Afghan formerly with the KGB but now a mercenary assassin pretending to be from Brazil.
Joseph (To Kill the Potemkin) keeps his large, complicated cast moving at a rapid clip without confusion. Even though the story heads toward deadly serious action, he manages to juxtapose threat with Monte Rio’s slow, woodsy ambiance. He creates a place where the evening air turns “to silk” and exudes the fragrance of “embers and pine” as well as danger.
Mark Joseph deftly combines dark humor with danger in MONTE RIO, an intoxicating blend of blend of tomfoolery, dark humor and suspense.
~Alicia Rudnicki for Indie Reader