When we last saw XIII he was once again unsure what his true identity might be, but more certain that he needed to get out of Denver, or the United States completely for that matter. We left him on a train heading South, needing to reach the ambiguous border country outside San Diego.

This book opens with a thrilling and superbly illustrated ten page sequence on that train as XIII is chased by government agents. With one exception, they believe themselves acting in the best interests of the USA in chasing down a dangerous threat to the nation. Artist William Vance excels himself yet again. He’s superb at illustrating scenes in torrential rain, supplying a noir glamour entirely absent for anyone actually experiencing those conditions.

Very much the same theme of hunted and hounds applies here as was seen in Top Secret, but Jean Van Hamme is a good enough writer to ensure the action plays out very differently. He also supplies a tension absent from that book by virtue of XIII being accompanied by someone who’s equally resourceful, and therefore likely to turn the tables on him. This is Agent Jessie Martin, introduced in the previous book, although somewhat undermined in the final knockings because although she’s a lesbian, XIII’s manly charms prove irresistible and it’s suggested that he’s the first man she ever slept with. It’s not enough to shred all credibility, but there occasions when Van Hamme would be an even better writer if he didn’t fall back on such tired devices.

By the end of the book it’s very clear that XIII is going to have to deal with an implacable enemy able to call on considerable resources, and it also appears that he’s expended considerable effort, yet may still end up back in the USA. The story continues with Operation Montecristo.