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Critical Mass


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A riveting tale of nuclear terror

About the Author

Steve Martini, a former trial attorney, has worked as a journalist and capital correspondent in the California State House in Sacramento. He has been engaged in both public and private practice of law. He lives on the US West Coast.


A militia group in the Pacific Northwest becomes the world's newest nuclear power in this by-the-numbers thriller by the author of The List and The Judge. Lawyer Jocelyn "Joss" Cole sees a big retainer when she's hired by Dean Belden to handle his company's incorporation filings. But after Belden gets a federal subpoena, Joss sees him die in a fiery seaplane explosion. Now she's the only visible link to Belden's company (which was on the receiving end of two decaying nuclear weapons smuggled into the U.S. out of Russia), and that brings her to the attention of arms inspector Gideon van Ry, of the Institute Against Mass Destruction. After the feds determine that the militia has possession of the weapons, Gideon and Joss join the race to try to avert nuclear disaster. Of course, there are complications: the militia group is being fronted by a foreign power in order to circumvent U.S. nuclear retaliation policy, and the President is in CYA (cover-your-ass) overdrive because his party accepted a campaign contribution from the chief Russian culprit. But even with a SEAL assault on the militia stronghold, double crosses galore and an ingenious ending, the book offers too few surprises, too little suspense and too little emotional involvement. The characters have no inner life, and the plotting is sketchy from the start, when it's explained that dummies were used to cover up for the two missing nukes‘dummies that conveniently drop off the weapons count while there's still time to foil the bad guys. The few crucial coincidences stick out like red flags because Martini makes more of them than he makes of the people around them. (Sept.)

Martini, who in previous books has demonstrated his considerable skill in the construction of legal thrillers (e.g., The Judge), tries his hand with somewhat disappointing results at a military technothriller … la Tom Clancy. Two nuclear devices disappear from the weapons-dismantling facility in the former Soviet Union and end up in the hands of a domestic militia group with a grudge against the U.S. government. The detection of the theft by Gideon van Ry from the California-based Center for Nonproliferation Studies sets him and lawyer Jocelyn Cole on an unlikely quest to locate the devices and prevent the nuclear destruction of Washington, DC. The action here is fast-paced but formulaic, and the characterizations are extremely thin; Martini is clearly writing for a movie-going rather than a book-reading audience. Frank Muller's consummate skill with the dramatic reading is as superlative as always; however, most mystery and thriller fans, especially those of the author's previous work, will be disappointed. Purchase only as demand warrants.ÄKristen L. Smith, Loras Coll. Lib., Dubuque, IA Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.

YA‘Intense military action combines with international intrigue to make this nuclear-age thriller a page-turner. The story starts out with numerous plots and characters, each interesting in itself, and all are pulled together by a gripping conclusion. Jocelyn Cole, an attorney living on a remote island in Puget Sound, is hired to represent a client incorporating his electronics business. After her client is subpoenaed to testify before the federal grand jury for international armaments smuggling, Jocelyn watches in horror as his plane explodes, with him onboard. She is then assaulted and held hostage by her "dead" client on an island where a homegrown militia is assembling a nuclear device. The bomb is destined for Washington, D.C. The clock ticks ominously as Jocelyn and an employee of the Institute Against Mass Destruction race to stop the detonation. The unique glimpse into the manufacturing, storing, and eventual decay of the nuclear arsenal stored around the globe makes this an insightful, informative, and terrifying novel.‘Anita Short, W. T. Woodson High School, Fairfax, VA

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