Herbie Kruger is asked to investigate when his friend and mentor, Gus Keene, is killed by a car bomb. He recently completed one “final” job for the service, even though he was retired, and his wife has left him. The novel introduces him far in decline from his former self, drunk and not having eaten properly in weeks. Getting back on a case, particularly one with personal meaning, appears to bring him back to life. The reader can expect the rejuvenated Kruger to continue in his old ways; CONFESSOR is the third book of what Gardner calls the Last Kruger Trilogy, preceded by MAESTRO and to be followed by ABSOLUTION.
Kruger begins his investigation by going through the notes and draft manuscript Keene had assembled for a book. He discovers that Keene intended to discuss several top-secret cases, including one in which the Secret Service altered evidence to make the killing of four suspected terrorists appear justified. Kruger focuses on that case in his search for suspects and motives. He soon discovers that Keene had been a master magician, as were several other high-ranking members of the Secret Service.
Kruger’s investigation soon becomes intertwined with the search for several teams of terrorists that are setting off bombs in Great Britain and the United States. He suspects that one of those terrorists might be involved with an agent that Keene had been running, without supervision and with no records kept.
Gardner also tells the story from the other side, detailing the activities of the terrorists. The reader therefore knows their plans before Kruger figures them out. Kruger observes the bombings escalate and discovers that he and two other Secret Service members are assassination targets, but he only gradually figures out the terrorists’ ultimate target.
With the Cold War ended, spy novels have taken new forms. CONFESSOR uses Iraqis as the new enemy and blends in current events, including the bombing of the World Trade Center. Gardner’s spies also are more human than those of the past. Keene was a master magician in addition to being a master spy, and Kruger has personal idiosyncrasies—particularly his deliberate mangling of the English language—and faces personal crises as well as developing a relationship with investigator Rebecca Olesker.