Writer John Le Carre said, « A desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world. » He could have been describing the adventures of James and Ian Lawrence in Bryan Devore’s latest thriller The Price of Innocence. Plunged into an underworld of saboteurs, spies, and sex traffickers, the Lawrence brothers quickly learn that the more they know, the deeper they go.
Both Ian and James start out as paper-pushers. Ian is a graduate student of economics, and James has found a comfortable CPA job in their hometown, Kansas City. Devore’s first chapter scrambles to pack in the back story, which hampers the novel’s rising action. However, after about 20 pages, The Price of Innocence takes an irresistible hold. Devore has a big imagination and the writing skills to match — soon, he’s guiding his characters through the streets of Prague, Berlin, and Dresden. Ian, engrossed with his dissertation, stumbles across a practical way to use a cross-competition theory of capitalism. With some nudging from a professor with an ulterior motive, Ian comes to see how his theory could essentially destroy organized crime. He’s motivated not only by academic curiosity. Marcus, a friend who has ties to an underground activist group called the White Rose, shows him a shocking scene that tips Ian towards starting the revolution. « Another door opened, for a brief moment revealing the silhouettes of several people inside the factory… out of the shadows stumbled three women in matching gray sweatpants and white T-shirts. Marcus remained silent as one of the men moved toward the nearest woman and ripped off her T-shirt. Her pale skin and large breasts were briefly visible until she fell to the dirt. He stood above her, waving her torn shirt like a victory flag and laughing to the other men. » The shock of seeing the sex trade first-hand is all it takes to commit Ian to the plan of eradicating the crime infrastructure that feeds off these victims. It doesn’t seem like much of a push, but, Devore reassures the reader, Ian has always been a thrill-seeker.
His brother James shares the same wild genes, though it takes quite a bit more to wake up his inner adrenaline junkie. By the time James arrives in Berlin to find his missing brother, his instincts are sparking like a severed power line. He has plenty of reasons to be more alert than usual. « [The stranger’s] hands rested palms-up on his knees, making him look like a meditating Buddha, but then, a Buddha wouldn’t have two handguns beside him on the bed. » One of the strongest dynamics in The Price of Innocence is the interplay between Ian and James — so alike that they are sometimes mistaken for one another, tied by blood and family history, and both fearless in their mission to bring down the powers of darkness.
Devore’s eye for detail is particularly good. His careful attention to street names, international law, translations, and German history add credibility to The Price of Innocence that is reminiscent of John Le Carre or James Michener. « James stepped off the train onto one of the five platforms that stretched out from the Hauptbahnhof station toward the tracks he had just traveled on from the Leipzig airport into the city. An enormous roof arched above the area… He had never traveled to a foreign country before, but only now that he had finally reached his destination city would he let himself slow down and marvel at where he was. Leipzig, eastern Germany, formally part of the Soviet bloc, a place that had seen history-changing battles, from Germanic barbarians taking on the Roman legions, to the Napoleonic Wars, to the First and Second World Wars. » Whether it’s the horrifying statistics of the sex trade, the broadcast of the breach of the Berlin Wall, or the RPMs of a BMW’s engine at 200km per hour, Devore keeps his fantastic conspiracy grounded in facts, giving it a three-dimensional quality. The story’s immediate, personal, and riveting — a page turner, in the very best way.
The Price of Innocence shows how courage and curiosity can change the world. Whether Devore’s heroes start at a desk or in front of a firing squad, they’ll keep you captivated until the very last paragraph.