CRITICAL MASS by Steve Martini


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Courtroom specialist Martini, last seen reveling in the unlikely trials of ghostwriting (The List, 1997), tries his hand at a Tom Clancy premise: an errant Russian nuclear bomb in the hands of home-grown terrorists. The latest report from the weapons-dismantling plant in Sverdlovsk seems to indicate that two nuclear devices have gone missing, but the Russian reporting system since the breakup of the USSR has been so rife with inaccuracies that there’s probably no cause for alarm, unless you’re ex-UN arms inspector Gideon Van Ry, now charged in his position at the Institute Against Mass Destruction with monitoring such devices. Flying to Sverdlovsk, Gideon swiftly discovers that the reports are all too accurate and that the petty bureaucrats who should’ve been watching the barn door are mostly interested in covering themselves. Back home in Puget Sound, burned-out lawyer Jocelyn Cole’s sweating the subpoena her latest client, charming, wealthy electronics manufacturer Dean Belden, has received from a federal grand jury—and why, after flying her down to Seattle to testify, the client high-tails it out of the courtroom just in time to perish in a fiery crash. Meantime, militiaman Buck Thompson is working a clever, cost-effective telephone scam while disguised as a UPS driver, and widowed community college teacher Scott Taggart is vowing revenge on the government that drove his wife to suicide. As in the James Bond movies, a good deal of the fun in the early going is trying to figure out just what all these plot strands have to do with each other. Once they come together, though, Martini shifts gears to a smooth but essentially vacuous action mode, with sedentary types like Gideon and Jose Cole displaying unexpected aptitude for the Steven Seagal tasks, and the closest thing to moral complexity being the President’s fears that a nuclear detonation may reveal his ties to a Russian arms dealer who slipped him too many rubles. Thunderball meets The Rock. Any resemblance to books that haven’t been made into movies is purely coincidental.

Pub Date: Sept. 21st, 1998
ISBN: 0-399-14362-9
Page count: 448pp
Publisher: Putnam
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 1998


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