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Heavy-handed first-outing political thriller with a kitchen-sink plot.

Shortly after the ocean liner Crescent Queen, carrying a large group of American high-school students, is obliterated by a hydrogen bomb while cruising the Mediterranean, a mysterious random illness strikes worldwide, rendering its victims instantly paralyzed. Many believe that both bomb and disease are the work of terrorists, probably linked. Rabid right-wing demagogue Colin Goss, meanwhile, capitalizes on public fear to hammer the current administration and raise his own political profile—while Kennedyesque Senator Michael Campbell, son of venerable retired politico Judd Campbell, defends the president. When the vice president is felled by the mysterious “Pinocchio syndrome,” Michael’s name is floated as a possible replacement. Indeed, his telegenic wife Susan receives a series of anonymous calls forecasting her husband’s political rise. Though she loves Michael, the two are currently having sexual problems, Michael satisfying himself with discreet mistress Leslie. It’s not until the vice president’s announced successor also succumbs to the syndrome that Susan discloses the secret calls, confiding in Michael’s oldest friend and fellow Harvard alumnus Joe Kraig, now a CIA agent. Meanwhile, brilliant, driven freelance reporter Karen Embry crisscrosses the globe ferreting out the origins of the epidemic and probing its possible link to international terrorists (Osama bin Laden makes a cameo appearance in a cave) or to a domestic enemy. The reader learns that Goss is the mastermind behind Pinocchio and that Michael is his secret protégé. After another choice for veep dies, this time in a suspicious accident, Michael gets the predicted call to serve. Just as it seems that the plot is tightening with this group of players, it takes an abrupt turn with the kidnapping of Susan Campbell by an apparently left-wing entity—and, with inside info and a head start, Joe and Karen are instrumental in exposing the nefarious plot(s) and finding Susan.

Stiff prose and, despite the plentiful thriller ingredients, hard-to-believe characters.

Pub Date: June 17th, 2003
ISBN: 0-385-50955-3
Page count: 496pp
Publisher: Doubleday
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 2003