Rankin fans ready for a break from Inspector John Rebus’ inimitably dour Edinburgh (In a House of Lies, 2019, etc.) will welcome this reprinting of a state-of-the-art high-tech international thriller from 1990.
As the U.S. prepares to pull all its troops from Europe in a prophetic "America First" move, two apparently unrelated incidents provoke panic among the Brits who face abandonment by their partners in the historic special relationship. One is the period of 3 minutes and 40 seconds during which the satellite Zephyr goes dark, losing all contact with its monitors on the ground. Although it soon returns from the blackness, controller Paul Vincent is deeply shaken by the interruption. He shares his fears with fellow monitor Martin Hepton, and soon both of them are up to their floppy drives in danger. The other problem is more serious from the get-go: The space shuttle Argos crashes to Earth in the middle of a heretofore routine flight, killing all five members of the American crew and leaving only Maj. Michael Dreyfuss, the sole British participant, alive. Like Vincent, Dreyfuss instantly senses that the failure of the craft on which he’s hitched a ride is only the tip of a much larger iceberg. And as subsequent events will quickly show, the two incidents are indeed only the most obvious nodes of an international—or, more precisely, post-national—web of intrigue. Picking out the leading malefactors from a cast that includes military officers, career diplomats, agents of the American and British secret services, and the odd professional assassin who all look equally untrustworthy is less rewarding than uncovering the deep-laid and remarkably simple plan behind all the shenanigans. A bonus in this new edition is Rankin’s refreshingly candid Introduction, which emphasizes the vicissitudes of his early career in a way that will either inspire wannabe writers or lead them to despair.
A fast-paced blast from the past…and (who knows?) maybe the immediate future as well.