Finished the Ares Decision by Kyle Mills, a process that took about 2 years. I originally pre-ordered the book, then supposed to be The Infinity Affair by James Cobb. The book is one of the Covert One series based on an idea by Robert Ludlum and the books are written by different authors, some better than others. I had enjoyed Cobb's contribution, the last book in the series, The Arctic Event, even if he did take the concept further from its origins, a process that had begun in the previous book, The Moscow Vector, and so was anticipating his subsequent effort. Why he was replaced on the assignment and why the title and substance of the book got changed around I have no idea. I do know that Mr. Mills was new to me and given all that went before I was wondering how things would turn out.
Hate to say it but it didn't look so good early on. I found the opening chapters a bit of slow going but fortunately it was only the opening chapters. Sticking it out I was able to get to the good parts, the rest of the book. In fact I really liked what was done with this one. In the previous two books Covert One had started to stray from its roots which were about a highly secret black ops agency that used mainly specialists in other areas as agents when trouble cropped up in areas of their expertise. The main protagonist, Col Jon Smith is an army doctor by day, secret agent by night when the world is threatened by biological super weapons in the wrong hands. In the previous two books, especially The Arctic Affair, Covert One had become extremely visible, at least in the intelligence community, and Col Smith was becoming more agent than doctor. Of course for the purpose of the books he is mainly agent but the plots basically have him playing doctor in the times between cases. In Arctic he was spending his off time training to become a better agent, the doctor bit seemingly becoming an after thought. In this book Covert One goes back to being highly secretive though for reasons of continuity it's mentioned that a dept as big as it was couldn't help but start to leave traces that other agencies in the intelligence community would start to pick up. That is a far cry from the fact that they were actually making demands of other agencies in the US government in the previous books however.
Another nice surprise was the return of Peter Howell and Marty Zellerbach, two characters from the earlier books. Marty, a computer genius with Asperger's Syndrome, plays a big part in the early novels. He really soars when he goes off his meds but they make him a handful to keep on track. In the Ares Decision he only plays a small role but even then he has a propensity to do his own thing no matter what he is asked by Col. Smith or even what he promises. Peter Howell is a retired British intelligence agent, at least officially and from the British. He's not above keeping his hand in for certain groups and Jon calls on him when he feels the situation calls for more expertise in the field than he has. His role in the Ares Decision is a major one. Both characters were absent from recent books.
One character that was present in the most recent book but was absent here was Prof. Valentina Metrace. As she was a recent addition, introduced only in the previous book, one wonders if she will make a return appearance or whether she will disappear if the books go back towards their origins. I enjoyed the character of Prof Metrace, a professor of warfare and a totally amoral woman who happened to be an expert in special weapons not to mention a designer of some of her personal ones. It will be a shame if she totally disappears though her character might be a bit difficult for some authors to write. The amoral attitude towards death and killing can be a hard one to pull off.
The Ares Decision is based mainly in the Horn of Africa with a later side trip in to
Iran. A terrorist leader gets his hand on a weapon that turns ordinary people in to rampaging savages capable of ripping apart the best the world has to offer in special ops squads. On the presumption that it is biological in nature Col Smith is called in to check out the situation and put a stop to it if he can. He decides he needs Peter Howell as part of his support team and the two are soon off to Africa, picking up a South African professor who is an expert in parasites as Jon feels that if there is indeed something biological to this a parasite is the likeliest vector. In the meantime the dictator whose reign is being threatened by the terrorist feels the US has failed him and decides to take up the Iranians on an offer to help him solve his problem. The Iranians are being so generous because they feel that while helping the dictator they can get their hands on a weapon that will help them against the West, particularly the US. The Iranian scenario plays out against a background of current affairs in Iran with their economic troubles, youth chafing under hard line Islamic rule and the US taking a hands off attitude for the most part. It all leads to an interesting storyline with plenty of action and a lot of ambiguity over the Iranian situation, such as exists in actuality. Not everything is sweetness and light between allies or even departments within the same government. A number of times the question of the ends justifying the means arise. It's not all the good guys are riding in on a white charger to triumph over the despicable baddies.
All in all a good book and one I enjoyed. Once I got past the first couple chapters it was tough to put down when I had other things to do. I mean after all, how much sleep you really need. I have no problems with Kyle Mills addition to the Covert One stable of writers and although I can't say it was worth waiting two years, very few books are, I'll give this one 4 stars out of 5.