THE CONTAMINANT by Leonard Reiffel


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An intermittently lively hop-skip-and-stumble down a melodramatic road to World War III--which starts warming up circa 1984 when Randolph Clayton, the new Joint-Chiefs-of-Staff Chairman, chances on a mysterious project code (""M10"") on his super-computer. No one, not even the President, seems to know what M10 is, so Clayton figures it out, computer-wise, for himself: M10 is a renegade plan (by ex-Pentagon right-wingers), already long in action, to contaminate wheat exported to Russia with carcinogens--no wonder Russia's cancer rate has skyrocketed! When Clayton dies in a plane crash, his reporter brother-in-law John Schotty gets ahold of the M10 report, but promises the President to keep it quiet for a while. However, Schotty's unscrupulous aide slips the report to an even more unscrupulous wire-service, and the news is out, despite the White House's frantic attempts at a cover-up. Russia is angry, of course, demanding reparations (like Alaska), and here the book loses its modicum of snazziness in the general riots-and-panic hysteria--as the lame-duck President and the President-elect argue with each other and with Moscow about how to avoid all-out nuclear war. Reiffel is a science journalist, so there's lots of medical, Civil Defense, and weaponry data, as well as dialogue like: ""Sir, the SecDef is still in an Autosevocon teleconference with his staff at DOD."" But the best moments here are the least scientific ones--the evil energy of the wire-service mogul, the (unintentional?) comic war-room arguments a la Dr. Strangelove. If Reiffel had maintained a light touch throughout, this could have been a scary, funny winner; as it is, it's predictable, inexpertly crafted, but inoffensive, crammed with detail, and reasonably sprightly.

Pub Date: Sept. 20th, 1978
Publisher: Harper & Row