Picks and Pans Review: Let Us Prey

updated 04/18/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 04/18/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Bill Branon

Attention, harried taxpayers: Have we got a thriller for you! With a convincing dash of Tom Clancy-style techno-detail, a cast of ail-American misfits reminiscent of an Elmore Leonard caper and an attitude Ollie North might applaud, this edgy first novel takes high-powered aim at one of your favorite targets: the IRS.

Let Us Prey's pivotal figure, millionaire patriot Rayburn Varki, has a unique plan for reducing the long arm of the federal government: blow up IRS centers across the nation, jam the tax collectors' computers and thereby hobble the boys who are siphoning off the country's lifeblood into their own pockets and pork-barrel schemes.

To accomplish his grandiose designs, Varki assembles a vivid and vulpine pack of mercenaries that includes a money-laundering priest, a rogue Air Force colonel, a weight-lifting hit man and a Las Vegas call girl. Alas, despite some realistic pyrotechnics and enough blood to float an offshore bank, the plan runs aground.

Branon, a Harvard grad and retired Navy captain, infuses every page with exquisite realism. From how to sight in a sniper rifle to the kind of cuff links a Vegas pit boss wears, a reader senses that the author didn't do research—he did the work. All the more extraordinary, Prey couldn't find a home at first. The author published it himself in 1992 and sold 13,000 copies on his own before HarperCollins bought it. Branon cut roughly 250 pages from his original manuscript. With every page begging to be turned, thriller fans can only, er, pray that next time he will deliver the whole package. (HarperCollins, $22)

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