“THE SKELETON KEY” by James Rollins
Okay, I gotta admit I’m loving the short stories that are coming out of the whole ebook phenomenon. The newest one I just finished is from a longtime favorite author, and it’s part of his ongoing Sigma Force series.
To sum up Sigma Force, it’s basically soldier scientists. And it reminds me a lot of the old Doc Savage pulp series, which, as it turns out, is purely intentional because Rollins was a big fan of those stories as well.
“The Skeleton Key” is a standalone story about one of the series’ chief villainesses. Think Catwoman to Batman here, because Seichan is attacted to one of the main Sigma Force characters. Seichan is a gifted assassin, trained to be one of the world’s best. But she has betrayed her bosses and her life is forfeit. She’s currently on the run.
This short story really shows its pulp roots when Seichan wakes up in a hotel room with a bomb locked around her neck. In short order, she’s given instructions by a powerful man to find his son down in the Catacombs beneath Paris. She doesn’t have a choice, and she’s given a young man as a guide, a confirmed cataphile (urban explorer who spends all of his free time climbing through the Catacombs).
Already at a breakneck pace, the story continues to accelerate. That’s a staple of a Rollins adventure tale: things happen quickly, and they generally happen big.
Also as usual, Rollins throws in several interesting tidbits of history, geography, and science. I was surprised at how much he could get into this story in so few pages (although well worth the 99 cents it costs at Amazon). And he blends action and setting so well that you hardly notice the background information he inserts into the story.
The story is a little predictable, of course. An action story at this length doesn’t have much time for twists and turns. Seichan appears masterful and competent, so any readers not familiar with her can easily become a cheering section. And the pacing is so quick that you’ll be nailed to the chair till you get it finished.
The story leads directly into Rollins’ next book, The Devil Colony, and I can’t wait to see what happens next.