In the early 1970s, super secret agent Evan Tanner disappeared, not an uncommon fate of international spies in the waning days of the Cold War. Captured by a Swedish militant group (now there's an oxymoron), Tanner was put in ice; that is to say, cryogenically frozen and buried under a suburban New Jersey house. Tanner's creator, Lawrence Block, left him there for a quarter of a century, give or take, and in the interim found fame and fortune chronicling the exploits of hard-boiled detective Matthew Scudder and bon vivant burglar Bernie Rhodenbarr.
Now it is 1998, the Cold War is but a distant memory, and by a happy accident Evan Tanner is resurrected. Chronological age: early sixties; apparent age: thirty-something. A lot has changed since the seventies: the advent of the computer age, AIDS, designer drugs, the partitioning of the former Soviet Union. Tanner goes by his old apartment and finds, to his astonishment, that his key still fits. More amazing, all his old furniture is present and intact, a living museum to the "late" Evan Tanner. The biggest surprise still awaits him, however, as the little refugee girl he had adopted some 25 years ago still lives in the apartment . . . only she ain't so little anymore.
It takes Tanner several months to catch up, to figure out how the events of the recent past have come together to shape the present. Voraciously reading back-issue newspapers and weekly news magazines, he draws upon his photographic memory to sort myriad random facts into some cohesive whole.
Though the strife has ended between the Soviet Union and America, there are still trouble spots left in the world where an intelligence man may ply his trade, and soon the reconstituted Tanner finds himself in Burma, on a mission to kill real-life Burmese freedom fighter Aung San Suu Kyi. It seems Tanner's employer feels that the murder of Burma's most famous daughter will foment insurrection in the Southeast Asian country, thereby creating any number of money-making opportunities for the adventurers savvy enough to capitalize on it.
Tanner quickly finds himself wrapped up in the proverbial web of intrigue, framed by the Burmese secret police, escaping to the frontier disguised as a Buddhist monk. (In the company of a beautiful bald woman who may be the heir to the Romanoff throne of Russia, yet.)More lighthearted than the Matt Scudder series, yet more topical and political than the Bernie Rhodenbarr books, Tanner on Ice is reminiscent of the tongue-in-cheek novels of Donald Hamilton (the Matt Helm series) or even Ian Fleming's classic James Bond stories. Anyone who enjoyed those will have a difficult time putting this one down.
Reviewed by Bruce Tierney.