Picks and Pans Review: Nest of Vipers

updated 02/06/1995 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/06/1995 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Linda Davies

Sarah Jensen is the sort of woman to inspire much teeth-gnashing. She is beautiful, she is brainy, she is popular and, thanks to her high-powered job as a foreign-currency-exchange trader in London, she is rich. Orphaned at an early age, she is also fragile, maybe a bit too willing, a bit too eager to live on the edge. It is precisely this tendency that Anthony Barrington, the governor of the Bank of England, taps into when he asks Sarah to go undercover as a spy at ICB, a suspiciously profitable merchant bank, and ferret out what looks like fraudulent trading. In fact, Barrington isn't giving Sarah the complete story; he doesn't reveal that the author of the extravagant plan is James Bartrop, the director of Counter-Narcotics Crime (the equivalent of the CIA in the U.S.). Bartrop suspects that ICB has dirty dealings with a Rome-based Mafia kingpin who has a lot of lucre to launder. Yes, Sarah loves secrets and excitement, but she doesn't deal well with those who lie or misrepresent themselves. When confronted by such folk, she is apt to do just about anything in the way of revenge. Unfortunately, first-time novelist Davies, having set a promising plot into motion, doesn't seem to know quite what to do with it. One rarely reads a thriller for prose style—in this case a fortunate thing—but one does read it for thrills, preferably thrills that get bigger as the climax closes in. That's where Nest of Vipers is a letdown; it simply doesn't pack sufficient wallop. But the novel is hardly a bankrupt issue; it is gratifying to have a strong female character as the protagonist of a thriller, particularly a female character in a predominantly male profession. And Davies, herself a former merchant banker, does a terrific job of explaining the inner workings of the foreign-exchange markets and of creating a sense of the supercharged atmosphere in which the traders do their deals. For the fiduciarily challenged, that alone makes Nest of Vipers worth the price of admission. (Doubleday, $23)

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