“Flat Spin” by David Freed. The Permanent Press.

“Flat Spin,” the title of this debut thriller, is the name of a complex and risky flight maneuver that only the most accomplished pilots should attempt, so it’s no surprise that the hero of the story, Cordell Logan, is a first-rate aviator. He’s also a former assassin for a top-secret military squad that specializes in making terrorists disappear.

As the story opens, Logan is living in a converted garage in Rancho Bonita, Calif., where he is scraping out a living by giving flying lessons to spoiled rich kids. He’s haunted by his past, longing for his beautiful ex-wife, Savannah, and failing miserably — and hilariously — to find peace through his recent conversion to Buddhism.

When Savannah’s new husband, another former assassination squad member, is gunned down, Logan has a very un-Buddhist reaction: He’s elated. But his mood quickly evaporates when he finds himself a suspect.

So Logan sets out to solve the case himself. He takes to the air in “The Ruptured Duck,” his Cessna 172, following the killer’s trail from Oakland, Calif., to the Las Vegas Strip, from the Arizona desert to Russian Mafia haunts in West Los Angeles.

Eventually, he gets too close to the surprising truth and is targeted for murder.

The way Logan sees it, being in danger and suspected of murder are the least of his troubles. He is consumed by his longing for Savannah, the pain made so real that your own heart will ache.

When you write your first thriller, it’s wise to stick with what you know, and Freed knows this turf. He covered police for the Los Angeles Times, where he shared in the Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the Rodney King riots. He reported from Kuwait and Iraq during Operation Desert Storm. He wrote computerized training simulations for the Defense Intelligence Agency. He holds a security clearance from the Department of Defense. And he’s a pilot who owns his own airplane.

Unlike some novelists with technical expertise, Freed is a superb writer. His prose is at once muscular and musical — and sometimes verges on poetry.

And he mixes a hard-boiled attitude with flashes of wry humor.

The riveting plot and fine prose are sure to make “Flat Spin” one of the best debuts of 2012.


Bruce DeSilva, winner of the Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar Award, is the author of “Cliff Walk” and “Rogue Island.”