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Book Review: Pretense

Pretense - Imbroglio Trilogy (Volume 1)John Di Frances. Reliance Books, July 3, 2018, Trade Paperback, 302 pages.

Reviewed by Ed Sarna.

Pretense, John Di Frances’ geopolitical thriller, is the first book of the Imbroglio Trilogy. The definition of imbroglio, as presented in the book, is “an extremely confused or complicated situation,” and as expected from the genre, we are led down story lines that suddenly veer off in unexpected directions. The action is fast-paced, peppered with near-escapes and enough plot twists to satisfy even the most jaded reader. The characters are relatable and believable. While the assassins might be cold-blooded killers, they also plan vacations and ponder what to cook for dinner. The group of “good guys” searching for them are not above their own faults. The book is easy to read and hard to put down.

The story opens with the murder of the Slovakian Prime Minister. Not long after that, the Polish Prime Minister is assassinated in a crowded soccer stadium. While the two deaths could be a coincidence, the likelihood of something more sinister leads to unrest throughout Europe. The assassins are pursued by a team of Polish intelligence and security personnel, led by intrepid Interpol agent, Marek (The Wolf) Farkas. They are eventually joined by an American CIA operative shortly after discovering clues suggesting that the killings may have been sanctioned or even carried out by the CIA. 

One of the more satisfying parts of the book is how the author alternates between the assassins and the group pursuing them. This allows us to follow each path, wondering when they will intersect. Several of the characters are well-realized. We learn some of the backstory of how and why the assassins became killers, and we experience their pettiness and insecurities, as well as their successes. The investigators, too, are well-rounded individuals, including Marek Farkas and Adrianna, a young forensics expert who holds her own on the mostly male team, despite occasionally showing her naiveté. 

If there is any fault to the story, to this reader, it is the author’s extensive use of acronyms and their meanings. While only a minor nuisance, these tended, at times, to pull me from the story. One example is in the phrase, “...still in the final T&E (Testing and Evaluation) phase...” I think it would be enough to just say, “...still in the final testing and evaluation phase...” Another time an individual was referred to as “being at U.S. European Command (USEUCOM).” Again, I believe it would flow smoother without the acronym.

The locations are well-described, due in no small part to the author’s background as a global consultant. John Di Frances has assisted clients in complex problem-solving of Advanced Military Weapons Systems, and has worked with the FBI, SEC, Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and Swiss National Police. He appears to have been working toward this point all his adult life. He is the author of four business books, the co-author of a fifth, and since 2000 has served audiences internationally as a professional keynote speaker.

The ending of this first book in a trilogy took me totally by surprise. It was quite satisfying, answering numerous questions while also posing new ones. I can’t wait to read the next two books.


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