SECRETS OF STATE by Matthew Palmer


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A rogue nuclear weapon and a ticking clock lie at the heart of this engaging thriller by the author of The American Mission (2014).

Terrorists plan to explode a small nuclear bomb in Mumbai, India. But, of course, “there really is no such thing as a small nuclear bomb,” as Palmer writes. The disaster would likely trigger a fourth war between India and Pakistan and ultimately give the U.S. a pretext to destroy all Pakistani nukes. Former U.S. diplomat Sam Trainor discovers the elaborate plot. He’d been too outspoken for government work and is now employed by Argus Systems, a Virginia-based consulting firm providing foreign intelligence and analysis to the CIA; Argus’ Cassandra Project creates computer models to predict possible nuclear terrorist attacks. Sam, a widower with a beautiful daughter, Lena, is secretly having an affair with a married woman who works for the Indian Embassy in Washington. Argus sends him from Virginia to Mumbai, where he finds plenty of vivid settings and action. Shadowy terrorists linked to Argus apparently have placed the nuclear device near where Lena works among the Dalit—formerly the untouchables—in Mumbai’s malodorous slums. The bomb might kill a hundred thousand Dalit in that city of 20 million, serving a greater good in the eyes of some. The characters are not always what they seem, and tricky twists result. A red-digit timer in a Mumbai slum counts down the seconds to the feared holocaust, so Sam and friends mustn’t tarry. One might wonder what purpose those timers serve for the terrorists, but they’re surely a useful cliché for thrillers. And they reinforce tension even if the overall outcome is eminently guessable. Meanwhile, a few chapters wander back to the battleship Maine, the days before Pearl Harbor, the JFK assassination, and other digressions that slow the story’s momentum but hold the reader’s interest.

A well-written imagining of how India and Pakistan could be pushed to the brink of nuclear disaster.

Pub Date: May 26th, 2015
ISBN: 978-0-399-16571-9
Page count: 432pp
Publisher: Putnam
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 2015


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