PRESENT DANGER by William J. Buchanan


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Buchanan's first novel--a change of pace from his moving non-fiction account of a dying track coach (A Shining Season, 1978)--is a sturdy, straightforward thriller about a megalomaniacal Air Force officer's plot to wage chemical warfare against the black population of South Africa. During the last months of the Carter presidency and the hostage crisis, the top-secret, state-of-the-art, radar-baffling reconnaissance plane Cobra One crashes unexpectedly while on a final training mission, killing its veteran pilot, Major Peter Crowell. Electronics specialist Major Jonathan Ward is sent to Kirtland AFB in New Mexico to investigate, but finds himself being stonewalled by the super-patriotic director of the Cobra Project, General Bart Sabin, who insists the plane went down because of pilot error, Refusing to be intimidated, young Ward tracks down Crowell's widow, Janet, who lives with her father, Professor James Moslin, in a remote mountain lodge. There he learns that, during the war, Crowell had piloted planes spraying an Agent Orange-like chemical (developed by scientist Moslin) over Vietnam villages. Called Kronus, it has now been refined to the point where it sterilizes without killing, and Ward theorizes that Crowell had deliberately crashed Cobra One because he knew it was going to be used to disseminate Kronus again. Coming down from the mountains triumphantly, Ward confronts Sabin, and the unrepentant general spills the beans: on Election Day, 1980, he'd planned to use Cobra to drop the chemical on black townships in South Africa, causing complete sterilization within one generation: ""Eighty-three percent of the South African ethnology is comprised of subcultures whose primitive tribal instincts are communistic. . . How better to counter Marxist proliferation than by denying them the human fodder they gorge upon? Kronus!"" With his career ruined, Sabin scurries off to Johannesburg to seek asylum, and Ward settles down for what promises to be a lengthy affair with the lithe and dewy-eyed Janet. Predictable in places, mainly because Sabin is a fairly obvious military villain of the Fail Safe or Seven Days in May variety; still, a strong showing from a knowledgeable writer.

Pub Date: March 17th, 1986
Publisher: Macmillan