Two government contractors are sent to Turkey for what seems to be a simple exchange, but which turns into a complicated international smuggling case. John Knox is a former government contractor who now works for a private security firm. He's experienced in handling everything from complicated spycraft to delicate hostage negotiations. So when his boss David "Sarge" Dunwich convinces him to take on what he promises is an "in-and-out" art sale negotiated by their firm Rutherford Risk, Knox is wary but willing. He's teamed up with Grace Chu, a young Chinese computer genius he's worked with before. According to Dunwich, all they have to do is sell a relic to a specific person in order to get five minutes alone with the buyer. Knox isn't told any other details, which should have been the first clue.
The sale is supposed to take place in Istanbul, but it isn't long before Knox and Chu realize there is a lot they haven't been told about the exchange. First of all, it becomes apparent very quickly that the point of the art sale isn't to sell the piece. The only reason to need five minutes alone with the buyer would be for him to pass something to Knox and Chu. But neither of them have been told to expect that to happen. Before the meeting can take place, they're being followed and soon chased by Turkish police, a mysterious team of Mossad agents and other gunmen who also seem to be Israeli. Everyone seems to have a different, often unknown, agenda and Knox becomes convinced that while Dunwich is lying to them, whomever hired him might not have been honest with the firm.
Knox is shot out several times and wounded. Chu is kidnapped and is only able to escape due to a series of lucky breaks. She suspects her kidnappers were hired by Mashe Okre, the mysterious older brother of Akram, the man Knox was supposed to contact in order to sell the item. Chu is able to discover that Mashe has changed his identity and is actually a nuclear scientist who works for the Iranian government. He is in Istanbul in order to spend time with their ailing mother, but it's not clear if she's even really sick. or if she is, did someone do that to her to bring Moshe to Istanbul. The Israelis seem to be interested in Mashe, and Chu suspects it has something to do with his knowledge of the Iranian nuclear program.
Knox is attacked again and the driver of the cab he is in is killed. He tells Akram that the sale is off, but he's convinced to go through with the sale. Chu continues to uncover unsettling info about the people they're working with and after she meets with Dunwich, she and Knox are convinced that they have become expendable. But they go through with the sale and during the meeting Mashe gives Knox an ordinary-looking business card that is encoded with a list of supplies Iran is trying to buy from China and North Korea in order to complete its nuclear program. Mashe believes Knox is an Israeli spy, but it's not clear what Mashe is trying to accomplish by passing the list of items to Israeli agents. Is he trying to hobble the Iranian nuclear program by giving Israel the list? Or does he have another agenda?
As soon as they leave the meeting, they find themselves being chased by two different groups of Israeli spies, who seem to have conflicting ideas about what to do with the card that contains the information on Iran's nuclear plans. One group wants possession of the info and a second wants to destroy it. Neither decision entirely makes sense to the duo, but Chu and Knox decide their best chance of survival is hold on to the card and its information until they can use it as a lever to gain their safe escape. They are also still trying to dodge local police, who seemed to be concerned about the artifact and whether or not Knox had smuggled it into the country.
Chu and Knox manage to evade both Israeli spy teams, but as they cross the border from Turkey into Jordan, Knox is stopped by customs. He's interrogated and when a new person shows up to ask questions, Knox takes a risk, palms Mashe's business card and shows it to the man. The interrogator quickly pockets it and whispers "Shalom." Soon after Knox is released although he knows the card and its info is now in the possession of the Israelis, he's not sure which side has it.
As he and Chu fly back to the U.S., Knox leaves a message for Dunwich telling him he never wants to work for him again. He and Chu still don't quite understand what happened and they realize they probably never will. Knox also demands that money be sent to the family of the slain taxi driver, as compensation for a plan gone bad. As they approach home, Knox realizes that he may be done with Dunwich, but he can't help thinking that there might be a future for him with Chu.
Best part of story, including ending:
Unlike a lot of spy stories set in the Middle East, this was a complex and often unsettling story. It was often difficult to figure out who were the good guys or the bad guys. And that made it a lot of fun to read.
Best scene in story:
As Knox and Chu head to the airport, Chu thinks about all the ways that Knox annoys her. And yet, she also realizes that she cares about him in unexpected ways and decides that she's fine with that.
Opinion about the main character:
John Knox is a very complicated guy and while he's basically a good guy, he's not above breaking a lot of rules to get the job done. There's a very believable gentle side to him which makes him a lot more interesting than the typical spy book character.