U.S. Army major Brad Stout must go undercover into the cyberdepths of eBay to foil a deadly radioactive threat in the first book of Salter’s eBay Detective series.
The Army’s leading experts in weapons of mass destruction are being taken out one by one in suburban Maryland, just miles from where they serve their country as critical researchers. Brad, a decorated veteran of the Bethesda-based Armed Forces Radiobiology Research Institute, is hard at work piecing together a series of questionable purchases by anonymous eBay buyers. He devises a cunning online strategy, offering to sell radiobiological items on eBay, and soon, the prime suspect in the murders is in FBI custody. At home, he has a spinster sister, with whom he shares troubling memories of their abusive father, and a new fiancee, Mary Lou, who’s pregnant with twins. Brad’s ready to return to his normal life—until he receives an email from another anonymous buyer. Convinced that this new buyer is working with the first, Brad panics, believing that he, his fiancee and his sister could be the next casualties. He races to protect those he loves, while keeping dangerous weapons out of the hands of a psychopath. Based on a true story, the engaging plot reaches back into World War II history and secret Nazi laboratories. Its prose and hackneyed dialogue don’t offer the same sense of excitement, however. For example, in the opening chapter, a villain fakes an injury, and when an innocent woman asks what she can do to help him, he replies, “You can die!”; in a later scene, when a character asks the same villain what he should do with some sensitive materials, he replies, “You can take them to your grave!” The novel’s structure is repetitive, as well, with Brad alternating between the government facility, his eBay basement and his girlfriend’s home. The bond shared between Brad and his sister feels genuine and lends them some depth, but Mary Lou is depicted as an overseasoned Cajun stereotype.
An intriguing, if occasionally awkward, cyberespionage thriller.