Small candles nestled in a silver candelabrum are ceremoniously lit to announce the start of a medieval auction. Sadly, however, we are not in the middle ages but in the first decade of this century. The auction is a nightly event somewhere in Eastern Europe. On the block are naked teenage girls, the latest casualties of the global flesh market. These sex slaves are not fiction: “Natasha girls” already number over a million, an atrocity that has joined weapons smuggling and drug trafficking as one of the largest and most lucrative criminal activities on earth.
Kristýna Sondheim, at age 16, was among the first Natasha girls, but managed to break free of her captor and begin a new life in the States. That life turns ugly when she is sentenced to 25 years for the murders of her husband and young daughter – murders she did not commit. The novel opens with Kristýna’s breathtaking escape from Abbyville, a women’s prison built on land adjacent to Sing Sing. All we know at this point is that there is some link between the prologue and this remarkable woman; and that she knows her daughter, who witnessed Arthur Sondheim’s murder, is alive somewhere in Eastern Europe.
Kristýna becomes the focus of both the public and the FBI because of her escape. What is not known is that she and her little girl are also the focus of Stepan Obruchev, the man from whose sexual servitude she had escaped, the man responsible for her husband’s murder, her daughter’s kidnapping and the set-up that landed her in prison. Obruchev, one of the Trade’s major players, has contacts everywhere. He must find the girl, Teresa, who knows too much. He must find Kristýna before she is hunted down by Interpol. She will lead him to the child; he will have his revenge while eliminating the threat that he will be revealed – both as a killer and a kingpin in the Trade.
Thus begins an international race across continents, a frantic attempt by Kristýna to evade both Obruchev and the law in order to rescue her daughter. Her heart-stopping quest takes her and the FBI on a terrifying journey into the bowels of the Natasha Trade.
In Genoa, Special Agent Connor and his international team have her cornered. Kristýna again escapes; her courage and cunning evoke the most suspenseful scenes in The Fugitive. With the help of Natasha rescue groups throughout Europe, she spots her ragged daughter traveling with a tribe of Gypsies. Connor becomes convinced he is dealing with more than an escaped convict. His attention shifts to the Russian Mafia, the seedy criminal element calling the shots in the former East Bloc. He learns who Obruchev is, learns that he is looking for Kristýna. Together with the Austrian police he carries out a sting to penetrate Obruchev’s operation in Slovenia. Posing as an insatiable buyer of teenage girls, he picks up the evil man’s trail.
What has been kept from the reader to this point is that Obruchev’s auctioneer, Rasputin, a fake priest and castrato, seeks to dominate his inferiors – those driven by lust. What better way to do this than to set up Obruchev for the cops and take over his business? Rasputin kidnaps Teresa before her mother can free her. In a note tied to Teresa’s dog, Kristýna learns of a farm in Slovenia where she must go to find her daughter. Rasputin sends the same message to Obruchev, knowing the FBI will follow. All roads lead to the farm, desolate and enveloped in fog, for a nail-biting yet ultimately exhilarating denouement.
THE TRADE is available exclusively from Amazon.
Praise for Kirkwood’s THE QUIET ASSASSIN
THE QUIET ASSASSIN
Here is a truly original thriller, comparable to the very best of vintage Le Carré. It is set behind the Berlin Wall in the heart of the East German police state and it features one of the most unique and winning heroines since Lucy in Ken Follett’s Eye of the Needle. Her name is Käte Frassek, a resistance fighter since the age of eighteen, who over the course of twenty years leads a double life in her courageous campaign to rouse her countrymen to revolt against their repressive regime. She is a wife, a mother, a scientist, a lover… and an assassin.
Against a backdrop of the Cold War in the 1960s, an abiding love develops between Käte, while still the young wife of an East German official, and an American physician innocent of who she is and what she is doing. In the remarkable climax to her years of plotting against the head of the State’s secret police, she finally must risk not only her own life but her son’s and lover’s as well.
(From the original hardback edition)
To kill the man who had killed so many, Kate would do anything.
She would use her brain to work herself to the top of her profession.
She would yield her body to go even higher up the ladder of power.
She would risk her own child as a pawn on a chess¬board of cunning move and counterthrust.
But now she was being asked to make a sacrifice she dreaded. Not her own life that would have been easy. But the life of the good and noble man she passionately loved — so that the beast she hated might die….
(From the original Signet paperback)
“SOLID TENSION, SUDDEN DANGER, FIERCE ACTION … CATCHES FIRE.” — Kirkus Reviews
“A moving love story as well as a novel filled with action and suspense … strong and sympathetic characters … LeCarré, Follett, Ludlum and others in this select group are going to have to step aside … Thomas Kirkwood is a writer to get excited about.” — Rocky Mountain News
“NAIL-BITING … PERFECT!” — Norfolk Virginian Pilot
“Powerful … Truly riveting!” — Chattanooga News-Free Press
“A BUBBLING THRILLER … THE TENSION BUILDS.” — Cleveland Plain Dealer
“Suspense and intrigue … A classic adventure.” — Mobile Press Register
Thomas Kirkwood is best known for his Cold War thrillers. Before moving to Amazon, he was published by Macmillan, Collier Macmillan (Europe), Donald I. Fine (an imprint of Penguin), Signet (an imprint of NAL), Brilliance (audio), and Stjerne-Spenning (Europe). After many years in the EU, he now makes his home in Denver, Colorado. In addition to writing fiction, Kirkwood is a graduate professor of European politics and an independent consultant to several law firms.
Kirkwood’s novels include “THE SVALBARD PASSAGE,” “THE QUIET ASSASSIN,” “THE TRADE,” “LACKING VIRTUES” and “THE POPPY BROKER,” all of which are now available in both physical and Kindle editions. Under the pseudonym Tommy Vilar, Kirkwood has begun a swashbuckling series featuring the Italian counterpart to James Bond, Dante Passoni. The first volume, entitled “SAVE ITALY! Forget the Rest,” is now available. Under a second pseudonym, Chub Yublinsky, Kirkwood has published a novel dealing with teenage love and loss entitled “FAITH A Secret Life.”