CAPITOL PUNISHMENT by Ryne Douglas Pearson


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Home-grown terrorists and dedicated FBI agents produce mixed results in Pearson's third entry (October's Ghost, 1994, etc.) in the high-tech thriller genre. FBI Agents ""Frankie"" Aquirre and Art Jefferson are back, now on the trail of John Barrish, a white supremacist leader who hopes to ignite an American race war. Aquirre and Jefferson are called to the scene of an accidental dispersal of nerve gas -- in a residential area. The initial victims are the backroom chemist who made the gas, and the unlucky buyer (followed by police and paramedics attempting aid). Further investigation reveals that at least another two cylinders of the gas, called VZ, exist, somewhere, each with the potential to kill thousands. Meanwhile, Barrish and his people have contacted NAFL, a radical African-American group bent on exacting revenge on white America. Barrish's people pay NAFL to set off a VZ cylinder in the air system of an LA skyscraper -- with the result that 2,000 people are killed, and the country begins to panic. Barrish then uses NAFL for his big finale -- gassing the President and Congress during the State of the Union address, with the unwitting help of a US congressman. Once the country sees its leadership murdered by radical minorities, Barrish believes that America will kill or expel all nonwhites. But the real stars here are the explanations of how things work, from haz-mat protection suits and high-rise air-conditioning systems to the chemical make-up of nerve gases and the horrendous descriptions of how they attack the human body. Too bad there isn't more suspense. Pearson reveals every action of the bad guys, with Aquirre and Jefferson playing catch-up: an often successful framework, if the investigative process is compelling. It's not, and slows down an otherwise engaging plot. High-tech convincingly rendered for the layman, plus a few riveting action scenes -- sandbagged by the weight of a lackluster investigation.

Pub Date: July 1st, 1995
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Morrow