The Talbot Odyssey, an early ’80s Cold War thriller from suspense master Nelson DeMille, features a hero that might seem familiar to fans of DeMille’s later work.
Originally published in 1984, The Talbot Odyssey features a complex plot involving a law firm with deep ties to The OSS (the forerunner of the modern CIA) and a plot by Soviet agents, centered around a Russian retreat on the Long Island coast. It’s a sturdy espionage plot from the period, populated by double and triple agents, shadowy plots and a whole lot of action and mayhem.
At times, it can be a bit difficult to keep up with all the reversals and track who’s on which side. But no one writes action sequences like DeMille. His ability to weave an atmosphere of suspenseful dread was on full display in The Talbot Odyssey. It’s a solid novel worth reading, though not necessarily the place to start for DeMille newcomers.
The interesting thing that seasoned DeMille fans might notice about The Talbot Odyssey is how much its hero might remind them of one of the author’s more famous creations. Tony Abrams may well be the proto-John Corey.
The Talbot Odyssey appeared more than a dozen years before Plum Island, the first in the very successful John Corey series. It would be an overstatement to suggest that Tony Abrams was a dry run for John Corey. But it’s hard to deny that Abrams’s DNA seems to have informed the creation of Corey.
Both are ex-NYPD cops. Abrams, who was going to law school at night, quit to take a process server job with a prestigious mid-town firm. Corey left the force after being shot on duty. Both are very smart, but use glibness to obscure it. Each is prone to outrageous utterances to take people off-guard.
Both found themselves drawn into the fight against terrorism. Abrams joined a vestige of the OSS dedicated to fighting Soviet plots against the U.S. Corey joined a multi-agency task force founded to address a variety of terror threats.
Both are New York natives, from insular enclaves in the city. Each has a swank apartment that requires some explanation to guests. Each has a take-charge, ass-kicking, blonde love interest named Kate. They both have lots of friends at the NYPD they can call on for help. Each acquires a nemesis in a treacherous, hard-to-kill CIA operative.
Beyond those vital stats, the characters have similar voices. Each has a dedication to justice and a healthy skepticism of what apparent allies tell them.
There are some key differences between the two men. Their stories develop in different ways. Tony is the son of Russian immigrants who were also Communists. His later anti-Communist efforts provided one of the more interesting aspects of the character. Despite his humble roots, his skill set made him a logical fit for the legacy OSS operation.
John is New York Irish through and through. His family has been in the city for decades. His story develops as more of a “fish out of water” tale, as the street-smart NYC cop moves into the rarified air of international anti-terrorist operations. The echoes of his shooting continue to inform the character’s journey.
This doesn’t feel like DeMille deliberately copying or repeating himself. Rather, it seems like, with Corey, the author took another crack at a character type he’d written previously and found a more successful interpretation that connected with fans. Writers do that all the time. For whatever reason, DeMille never penned another Tony Abrams book. But something about the character clearly stuck with him, and he used some of that DNA to craft a hero that really resonated with his readers.
So if you’re a fan of the John Corey novels, check out The Talbot Odyssey and see the character’s spiritual forebear in action.
Originally published at thunderalleybcpcom.ipage.com on March 18, 2016.