In this debut political thriller, a National Security Agency analyst suspects that the villain behind a terrorist attack on American soil is someone in government—and in the U.S.
When the CIA receives a report that terrorists plan to strike on Sept. 11, the NSA sends for Signals Intelligence engineer Erick Sheppard. He oversees Operation Bloodhound, which employs technology to locate and identify threats via cellphones. Bloodhound’s launch, however, activates a program that triggers the brain’s fear center, crippling citizens with panic attacks and nervous breakdowns. This marks Erick as a possible traitor, while President David Kozar, believing Congress was a specific target, asserts total control by declaring Presidential Supremacy. Erick’s own investigation leads him to the questionable death of Henry Zhang, a neuroscientist who worked for the CIA. Venezuela gets the blame for the terrorist assault, but Erick thinks those truly responsible are a little closer to home. The novel manages suspense throughout by not withholding information and revealing the villain(s) and motives from the start. This amps up the story’s intensity: readers know that someone has incriminating evidence against a higher-up, while Erick is often unaware that he’s in the same room as a baddie. Erick, a former Army captain, does find himself dodging bullets in at least one energetic action sequence. But he’s at his best when he succumbs to his nerdiness, unmistakably spellbound when he dons a contact lens with video/audio capabilities. Marino meticulously and adroitly maps out the nefarious plan, but the tale’s latter half gets a bit prolonged and would have benefited from some editing. Kozar, for instance, gives numerous speeches and implements changes, like cutting the corporate tax rate. But the scenes are largely verbose because, with a timeline of mere months, his amendments hardly move beyond concept. Dialogue, too, is sometimes bland; a villain details the elaborate scheme and caps it with a “Very cool huh?” Nevertheless, Marino knows that a protagonist with something at stake is the most riveting kind. Erick gets his hands on a recording that incriminates a powerful someone and debates turning it over to authorities—or ensuring his safety by keeping it to himself.
Power-wielding adversaries in a tale that blends technology and espionage make for a rousing story.