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Published: Sunday, 8/24/2003

A well-plotted thriller

BY EILEEN FOLEY
BLADE ASSOCIATE EDITOR

A FISTFUL OF RAIN. By Greg Rucka. Bantam. 305 pages. $23.95

While the two novels are quite different, they combine the hallmarks of Rucka's writing: Imaginatively dense plots with surprising turns, and ethical dilemmas that at times stop protagonists in their tracks.

Critical Space, for example, has professional bodyguard Atticus (a parent's love of To Kill a Mockingbird is responsible for his name) Kodiak taking on the quintessential assignment of keeping alive a top hired assassin whose death someone has paid for, while he struggles not to become just like her.

The “space” in the title refers to the victim's area of vulnerability when an assassin needs to make a kill.

Rucka's new book, Fistful of Rain, is another matter. Rock musician Mim Bracca, whose alcoholism has just cost her a job, returns home to find it a place of terror that she must master along with her disease. Sometimes it just doesn't seem she is up to it. She reminds one of the ordinary people master spy writer Eric Ambler used to turn into protagonists: People minding their own business who suddenly are at the heart of a problem they don't understand.

First, someone is circulating nude photos of Mim on the Internet. Then her stepfather, whom she has long blamed for her mother's death, gets out of jail, and her brother, for some reason foreign to her, takes him in. Then her brother is murdered, and police and a high-end security system don't bar a malicious intruder from easy access to her house.

So masterful is Rucka in depicting Mim's fear and hopelessness in figuring out answers that one shudders with angsts right along with her as the horrors unfold and she consoles herself, or not, with Jack Daniels.

The key to everything - almost no surprise - lies in the past, which defies instant re-creation. The step-by-step process of unraveling, which is part of what this adventure is about, ultimately leads Mim to her enemies, without and within. She fortunately has some occasionally sympathetic (when she's not lying to them) police officers to see her through.

Rucka is a master of plots and a man with insight into the many themes and variations of the human condition. These combine to make him a compelling storyteller, one who can't help but bring readers back for more.



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