Two suburban families may have inadvertently helped terrorists smuggle an atomic bomb into the United States in Gardner’s thriller.
Gardner’s debut unfolds mostly in the quiet suburbs of Southern California, an area so safe it begs to be the setting of something exciting. Bob Davis and his wife Susan—a couple as innocuous as their surroundings—are unexpectedly thrust into the center of a terrorist plot after they receive a phone call from a “slightly accented” man who claims to have smuggled a precious piece of metal inside a shipment the couple sent home on their recent Egyptian vacation. Meanwhile, in Corpus Christi, Texas, Orville Powers and his wife become embroiled in a similar plot involving another piece of precious metal from their recent vacation to China. Somewhat unsurprisingly, the terrorists plan to incorporate the two parts into an atomic bomb, so Special Agent Bruce Martin must ensure that the two pieces of metal do not meet in the wrong hands, for if they do, millions of lives will be destroyed. The major plot moves soundly enough but lacks the high speed twists and turns one has come to expect in the revved up spy world of Jason Bourne and Jack Bauer. Admittedly, Bruce Martin is a different kind of agent: he’s “old school,” though he’s hardly Dirty Harry. In fact, it’s difficult to tell what kind of character he is. What makes him tick, like the bomb he must help defuse? Like most characters in the novel, Martin would benefit from a sharper portrait to help energize his scenes, which dominate the novel. The plot has potential for fast-paced action and nail-biting intrigue, but its course is too steady and direct—quite the opposite of the “complicated and dangerous” story promised the reader.
The characters need more electricity to make this thriller explode.