Patrick Larkin has written an excellent and exciting addition to the Covert-One series created by Robert Ludlum shortly before his death. The central protagonist is Army Lt. Colonel Jon Smith M.D., who was first introduced to readers in THE HADES FACTOR, the very fast paced initial book in the series. The other characters familiar to readers of previous books in the series include CIA agent Randi Russell and the British ex-MI6 operative Peter Howells, who team with Smith as he attempts to penetrate the secrecy surrounding the goals and leadership of an environmental group known as The Lazarus Movement. Fred Klein remains Smith's boss as the head of the ultra clandestine Covert-One operation that reports directly to President Sam Castilla; its very existence continues to be kept secret from not only Randi and Peter but even from the CIA and FBI as well as Congress.
This book follows the classic Ludlum style, a thriller combining fast paced action, a convoluted plot and a few individuals fighting seemingly far more powerful shadowy forces; all these elements linked by a conspiracy that apparently involves high level government operatives. In brief, the original focus of The Lazarus Movement on peaceful reform of environmental policies on a worldwide basis has gradually been replaced by an increasingly strident emphasis on anti-technology protests and an activist agenda of protests and demonstrations in support of its demands for the adoption of its radical eco-conscious agenda. Despite the intense efforts of governmental intelligence agencies around the world, they have been unable to discover either the location of the organization's headquarters or the identity of its leader, a shadowy figure known only as Lazarus. Suddenly, violence strikes a remote Lazarus agriculture experiment in rural Africa; this event seems to legitimize the organization's claims of persecution at the hands of the governments who oppose its anti-development agenda and further energizes the activists who increasingly dominate the Movement.
A major demonstration is planned to protest the scientific research being conducted at the Teller Institute for Advanced Technology in Sante Fe, New Mexico. This research involves some of the most highly classified and leading edge projects in the field of nanotechnology, the intersection of biology, chemistry and physics; projects whose potential to create machines so small that they could penetrate human cells and so powerful that they could be programmed to change structures at the subatomic level had allowed conspiracy theorists to sow fear with regard to both their misuse and their ability to eventually escape the control of the scientists who had created them. As the protesters assemble, apparently well orchestrated violence ensues which results in the deaths of many of the protesters, supposedly as the result of the inadvertent release of fatal nanophages under development at the Institute.
This story is an action filled thriller which uses nanotechnology as the key element of its story line, rather than a scientific thrller per se in the mold of Michael Crichton's PREY, which was a story utilized by Crichton to both inform the reader in detail about the technology and also aggressively promote his viewpoint concerning the need for scientific safeguards to be established with regard to such research. (See my review of PREY dated 12/2/2002 for a discussion of this issue.) This novel in contrast contains only peripheral discussion of the complex issues raised by the rise of cloning, genetic manipulation, and nanontechnology, such as when one character wonders "whether the speed of these advances...offers imperfect men too much power over themselves and over nature". However, these regerences only serve to further the plot, there is neither a deep examination of the technology nor an extensive and explicit philosophophical examination of the moral and ethical dilemmas the developers of such technology might encounter or the government's role in such development.
I highly recommend this book for readers who like action thrillers where the plot is revealed through the adventures of the protagonists rather than through extensive background provided by the author. (There is sufficient background information woven into the narrative for readers unfamiliar with the Covert-One series to thoroughly enjoy this book on a read alone basis, although the nuances of the character developments in those books will obviously be lost.) I was swept along by the compressed time frame of the story. Wih the exception of the prologue and epilogue all of the action takes place within a six day period. I have only two reservations - which are the reasons that I did not rate it five stars although I was very tempted to do so given how much I enjoyed it. First, and most importantly, even for a book of this genre there is an incredible amount of violence, some of it very graphic. While it is not sensationalist in nature and is in fact essential to the storyline, I nevertheless found the detailed description of the effect of the nanophage attacks on their victims sufficiently gruesome and sickening (despite their brevity) to downgrade the rating slightly. In addition, some of the exploits of Smith and his asociates bordered on the "superhero" variety rather than the merely heroic. In summary, this book ison a par with the best action thrillers that I have read recently, especially in that it avoids the overly detailed background information increasingly provided by authors in an attempt to promote a feeling of realism but which concomitantlyslows down the pace and therefore unavoidably detracts from my enjoyment of so many recent stories of this genre.