Monday, March 16, 2020


Drawing and Color Work: Philippe Aymond | Script: Jean Van Hamme

Revelations abound in the third LADY S book, which I find to be the strongest one so far. In this volume, our heroine, Suzan, is on vacation with her father at their villa in France -- but their trip is not a peaceful one. It seems the CIA has learned of the mysterious Lady S., and believes she is connected with an unofficial European intelligence agency called CATRIG -- the Center for Anti-Terrorism Research and Intelligence Gathering. CATRIG's very existence infuriates the CIA, who, as the "world's peacekeepers", can't abide a rogue organization running around and fighting terror on its own. So the CIA stages an international incident: they send operatives posing as members of a Middle Eastern terror organization to raid the villa and kidnap Ambassador Fitzroy, leaving his daughter, Suzan behind. The intention is that Suzan will then run straight to CATRIG for help, and the CIA will draw the rogue organization out of the shadows.

But what follows instead is a comedy of errors. Unknown to the CIA, Suzan has no way of contacting CATRIG (and probably wouldn't want to do it in the first place since the past few times she's worked for them it was under duress). However, CATRIG finds her when her handler, Orion, shows up at the police station after she's finished giving her statement about the kidnapping. Orion, identifying himself as a French government official, takes Suzan "into custody". But Suzan's movements are being observed by Ralph Ellington, the CIA operative who she previously befriended in book one (and who took the fall for her theft of a file from the Turkish ambassador's safe in that volume). Ralph believes Orion actually is with the government, and knocks him over in a fender bender, taking him out of action.

In the meantime, the French police find fingerprints in the Fitzroy villa which match those of a burgler known only as "The Cat", who operated in Europe ten years earlier. This was, of course, Suzan in her younger days, following the deaths of her parents. So Suzan goes on the lam from both the CIA and the French authorities, aided along the way by various CATRIG operatives and good samaritans, until she eventually reached CATRIG headquarters at a nursing home in the French countryside.

It's here that Suzan meets the Centaur, CATRIG's founder and leader, and it's also here that Suzan learns CATRIG is made up entirely of retired European intelligence operatives and volunteers. Though the organization operates with approval from the governments of Europe and draws some funds from a secret E.U. account, all the money goes toward operating expenses and equipment, and none of the agents are paid for their services. The Centaur asks Suzan to become an official agent of CATRIG, but she rebuffs him; she only cares about her kidnapped father. But while she's been on the run, the CIA operatives chasing her have gotten themselves arrested, and the CIA has pulled the plug on the mission. Meanwhile, CATRIG has put a halt to the "Cat" investigation by stealing the French authorities' files on the subject. So Ambassador Fitzroy is released and Suzan returns to him, after a brief meeting with Orion in which he encourages her to join CATRIG.

We then move along to book 4, which brings a massive shake-up to Suzan's world -- and I question whether it's too soon for something like this to happen, but we'll get to that shortly. The volume begins with Ambassador Fitzroy involved in a relationship with Donna Freeman, the first female president of the United States. But Freeman faces a challenge to her office from within her own party, in the form of the corrupt Senator Harry Glover. Glover has learned that Suzan may not be who she claims, and launches a plot to frame her as a mole, discrediting Fitzroy and the president by association. But events snowball from there, beyond the senator's expectations, as Suzan's full past comes out, and she finds herself on the run from the senator's hitman. Eventually the hitman is killed and Senator Glover brought to justice, but not without consequences: Suzan's American citizenship is revoked and she's deported to Europe, while Ambassador Fitzroy is forced to take an early retirement due to the scandal.

Yeah, on paper the plot sounds very similar to the story I just described from volume 2: our heroine's identity exposed, on the run from the authorities, etc. But it plays out totally differently, with the unexpected conclusion of Suzan's life being totally blown up. And as hinted above, I'm not sure that was the best choice. This is only book 4 in the series (a series which turned out to be somewhat open-ended, as twelve books were published in France between 2004 and 2016. An inordinate amount of time was spent in the first book setting up Suzan's status quo, and now it's been wiped out in very short order. Granted, these books were originally published at a pace of one per year over the course of four years, but even taking that into account, it's more the fact that the status quo is shaken up in such a short number of pages that feels questionable.

But of course, I must reserve judgment until I've seen where we go next. Volume 4 ends with Suzan arriving in Europe, greeted at the airport by Anton and Orion. With nowhere else to go at this point, I assume she'll join up with CATRIG for good (and for all I know, this was always the intention and everything with Ambassador Fitzroy was merely meant as setup rather than a permanent status quo).

There are two more LADY S. volumes available in English, and we'll take a look at both of them next week. But don't expect a clean finale or anything -- like I said above, there are actually a dozen of these volumes out there in total -- so only half have been translated.

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