Covert-One, the president's personal, super-secret agency formed after some recent virus-driven chaos (The Hades Factor, cowritten with Gayle Lynds), is staffed by an unknown number of international covert operatives, including Dr. Jon Smith, late of the USAMRIID. And a good thing, too, because someone's helped themselves to Russia's share of the world's last two stores of the smallpox virus, an eradicated yet hideously deadly bug with no ready vaccine.
That the pox was nabbed and who nabbed it is clear enough early on. Why such a seemingly large and disparate cadre of global citizens (keeping the players straight puts one in mind of Abbott and Costello's "Who's on First" routine) chose to pinch the bug and for what end are the novel's driving questions. Freelance Serbian uber-nasty, Ivan Beria, is among the apparent perpetrators as are Dylan Reed and Adam Treloar of NASA, Tony Price, the head of the super- secret NSA, and a bunch of Russians. The good-guys roster claims Smith; Covert- One's head, Nathaniel Klein; Briton and ex-SAS man, Peter Howell; Smith's deceased girlfriend's sister and CIA operative, Randi Russell; the girlfriend's best friend, backup shuttle astronaut Megan Olson; and another bunch of Russians. Suffice it to say that Smith and company trot the globe, cat-and- mousing after the pox and in so doing careen through a classically speedy and Ludlumesque (if coincidence dependent) plot leaving large numbers of efficiently dispatched corpses in their wake.
Most authors of international thriller-mysteries would give their right trench coat to make The New York Timesí¿ŒËŒ_ Best Sellers list. Of the late Robert Ludlum's 21 novels, 21 have resided upon that list. Where The Cassandra Compact, written with bestselling thriller author Philip Shelby (Gatekeeper, etc.), winds up is anyone's guess, but a few hundred thousand nightstands is a good place to start. And stay tuned for more installments--Ludlum may be dead, but he's not done yet. --Michael Hudson -