AKA Jane by Maureen Tan
(Warner, $6.50, V) ISBN 0-446-60667-7
****
James Bond may be over the hill, but England is still safe because Jane Nichols is in Her Majesty's Secret Service. Young, beautiful and deadly with a gun or a knife, Jane is a British MI-5 agent, a counter terrorist and spy, who is often placed so deeply undercover that it becomes difficult to return to normal life.

Jane is both mentally and physically exhausted and now wants out. Her life hasn't been the same since the love of her life, fellow spy Brian Hurst, was killed in a botched operation in Italy. Depressed, suffering flashbacks of the deadly incident for which she blames herself, Jane decides to devote her time to her other undercover life as Max Murdock, the hardboiled author of best-selling, gritty detective novels.

Although her boss insists that she is just on a holiday, Jane is adamant. But when she travels to America on a book tour and unexpectedly discovers the identity of the man responsible for Brian's death, Jane realizes that she has one last mission: revenge.

Jane follows her quarry to Savannah, Georgia, determined to let nothing stop her from exacting her vengeance, but she hasn't counted on Alex Callaghan, the handsome Chief of Police, awakening long dormant feelings that jeopardize her mission.

In an impressive debut, Maureen Tan delivers an action-packed novel with a fast-paced, escalating story that erupts in a thrilling conclusion. Jane is a wonderful heroine brave, brainy, and beautiful, whose mysterious past and troubled memories engender sympathy from the reader.

And Alex Callaghan is a perfect match for her, if only she's interested. This Southern gentleman is savvy cop who unknowingly shows Jane what she's missing in life good friends, a close family and a possible romantic relationship.

To an American, the organizational structure of British intelligence is a little confusing. AKA Jane describes MI-5 as Britain's internal security unit, which is consistent with my own sources that compare MI-5 with America's FBI. Yet confusingly, Jane's missions often took her abroad. A few British expressions were puzzling, as was the appearance of five hundred dollar bills (which haven't been in circulation for more than a generation), but usually Jane is right at home in America.

Touched with poignancy and occasional humor, AKA Jane is a spy thriller for the new millennium. "Lady Jane" Nichols is one heroine who kicks a** and doesn't need James Bond to save her; she can take care of herself.

--Dede Anderson


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