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Let’s be honest: William D. Pease’s third novel, The Monkey’s Fist, sounds more like an S&M flick than a post–Cold War thriller. But alluring titles aside, the McLean, Va., resident has crafted a tricky tale (named for a complicated sailor’s knot, or so he says) that’s part international spyspeak, part Chandleresque grit. This may be a peculiar blend of genres, but even though Pease’s from-the-Capitol-to-the-Kremlin plot explodes with counteragents, technogadgets, and politics, his protagonist, Eddie Nickles, is a family-man Philip Marlowe. Pease, however, is hesitant to admit to any similarities to the master of the hard-boiled style.

“I don’t really read much traditional mystery,” Pease offers, almost as a defense to my questions about his shamus-minded progenitors. “I read John Le Carré, but I also read Graham Greene and Charles Dickens, too. I tend to write what I see in my head. I start with visual images. These are my imaginary friends.”

Fist works as a thriller, but the following passage (describing the villainous Garland Bolles) sounds like it slipped off the pages of The Big Sleep: “The air was cool, yet the man was perspiring, and he reached in his pocket for a handkerchief to pat his brow. It was a high brow and broad, accentuated by thick black hair swept back and lying flat as if lacquered to his skull. His long chin hung like a counterweight, and in between, his eyes, nose, and mouth were all small and set close together, as if those features by which he might be judged had circled their wagons in the valley of his face. It was not a handsome face, Eddie thought, and it certainly was not plain; but for all it was not, it was a face that stayed with you.”

Pease, who spent 15 years as an assistant U.S. Attorney in the District, now lives most of the year in Moscow, where his wife works as an international corporate lawyer, and he, despite feeling “like a little kid in an amusement park,” writes fiction. “Moscow is a fascinating place, but one of the problems is that it’s a such a distracting place, too,” explains Pease. “The Russian people have been very warm, friendly, and open. They’re also pretty nutty in some ways.” “Nutty,” huh? Maybe Pease isn’t so Chandleresque after all.—Sean Daly