A follow-up to the highly praised Vulcan’s Forge (1998), again featuring engineer and geological consultant Philip Mercer, a Bond clone with a sybarite’s taste for the good things in life and a Derringer strapped to his testicles. Intelligent writing is always a pleasure: readers will enjoy Du Brul’s descriptions of geological mining practices and his thoughtful consideration of the question as to whether or not the rewards of new mining practices make concurrent damage to the planet worth the heavy cost. There are no easy answers, as Mercer makes clear when helping to inflict lasting damage on Arctic wildlife in return for the US gaining an oil supply fully independent of the Middle East. Even so, he falls for environmentalist Aggie Johnston, whose father, Max, is a bad guy in league with nasty, super-fat Arab Hassan bin-Rufti, who plans to take over the United Arab Emirate while the US is diverted into protecting its second Trans-Alaska Pipeline and mopping up the oil spill from a supertanker taken over by terrorists—a ship that, if it’s sunk in Puget Sound will perhaps sink the US President’s new environmental program as well. Massive resistance to said program is underway already, with saboteurs and environmentalists gathering at Anchorage and Valdez, and threatening letters being sent to oil companies. Among other foul labors, the terrorists attempt to assassinate Mercer, two of his Alaskan fishing buddies are killed, and a third compatriot, the inventor of a new tunnel-boring drill, has his life ended by pain-loving Arabs who feed his cat into a sink grinder. Guiding all bad deeds from somewhere in the deep background is psychotic archvillain Ivan Kerikov, who, of course, lives to fight again in forthcoming Mercer adventures. A densely detailed and well-paced thinking-man’s melodrama.