An Army captain struggles to make sense of an impending terrorist plot on U.S. soil while battling Washington bureaucracy in Hampton’s well-researched thriller.
U.S. Army Capt. Ben Hawkins has a sneaking suspicion that a basic investigation into faulty record-keeping at the Tupelo Chemical Research Center will yield bigger issues for his Criminal Investigations Command. Soon, he’s hot on the trail of missing nerve gas, an AWOL Army officer tasked with destroying the fatal toxin, a kidnapped coed and a mysterious source who seems just as intent on stopping a terrorist attack as Hawkins. When several other U.S. agencies get involved, Hawkins has difficulty ceding the case to a by-the-books FBI assistant director, and he must choose between a possible court marshal and trusting his unverified source, an enigmatic man calling himself Julian. Despite all signs pointing to a typical rogue-agent thriller, debut novelist Hampton eschews the genre’s typical plot holes and vague facts. Hampton served in the military, and he includes a wealth of authentic details, from the types of vehicles used in the CID to the military history that propels terrorists to plan an attack against the U.S, even against the wishes of their own government. As for the story’s villains, Hampton’s handle on international relations gives them credible motivations, though readers may yearn for deeper insight into the personal pasts of these vengeful Middle Eastern patriots. Likewise, Julian, a high-ranking Iranian intelligence officer, has charm, strategic thinking, a sense of humor and a never-ending repository of spy tricks. In other words, he’s a Middle Eastern James Bond. Unfortunately, Hampton truncates Julian’s character development in favor of Hawkins’ rather bland private life, which consists mostly of meeting his fiancee for meals and working on a sailboat. Hawkins, and the reader, doesn’t have much time to ponder breakfast or rudders, however, as Hampton deftly weaves a complex plot taking the action to Europe, the Middle East and various American locations. The terrorists’ plans are tightly wrought and hinge on a terrifying possibility, uncovered in the first few pages, that chemical weapons marked for destruction in the U.S. could be stolen and turned against American citizens. Hampton forcefully brings this point home, while packing in surprises until the very last pages.
A conceivable threat and suspense-filled plot keep readers engaged until the end.