Critical Mass

Critical Mass

4.4 10
by Steve Martini

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Jocelyn "Joss" Cole, a burned-out public defender from L.A., has opted for a quieter life in the San Juan Islands of Washington State. Joss has no significant clients other than a group of commercial fisherman suffering from a strange and serious illness, a condition that doctors cannot diagnose, and which Joss believes has an industrial cause. Then into her office

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Jocelyn "Joss" Cole, a burned-out public defender from L.A., has opted for a quieter life in the San Juan Islands of Washington State. Joss has no significant clients other than a group of commercial fisherman suffering from a strange and serious illness, a condition that doctors cannot diagnose, and which Joss believes has an industrial cause. Then into her office comes Dean Belden, a well-heeled client in search of a lawyer to help him set up a business in the islands. Within days Belden is subpoenaed to appear before a federal grand jury. Less than an hour after testifying, and before Joss can discover what happened in the secrecy of the grand jury room, Belden dies in a fiery explosion of his float plane on Seattle's Lake Union. Gideon Van Ry is a nuclear fission expert and a scholar in residence at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies in Monterey, California. One of his duties is to update the Center's database, an extensive catalog listing fissionable materials and weapons of mass destruction. Gideon is troubled by the apparent failure to account for two small tactical nuclear devices missing from a storage facility in the former Soviet Union.The two weapons were last seen in packing crates, to be shipped to an American company called Belden Electronics. Gideon has been unable to locate this firm, and now he is left with only one possible lead, the lawyer who incorporated the company-Jocelyn Cole. Fraught with tension and suspense, Critical Mass is Steve Martini at his electrifying best. It is the story of what can happen in a world where private hate and public apathy combine to uncork the sleeping but deadly genie of nuclear terror.

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Editorial Reviews

The Barnes & Noble Review
September 1998

Steve Martini hits a home run in a big way with Critical Mass, his new legal and political thriller, which takes on an international conspiracy and a nuclear arsenal. With his legal thrillers such as Undue Influence and The List climbing the bestseller lists, Martini rarely if ever misses the mark. One of the hallmarks of his novels is how world issues impact the individual (usually a lawyer), and in Martini's world, lawyers are always seeking some kind of escape from the injustices of life. Martini is such a master storyteller that he manages to make the universal personal. Critical Mass is the engaging story of one woman's struggle to come to terms with the vagaries of law and justice.

Martini throws us into a mystery in the opening of Critical Mass. A father and son are piloting a boat in the treacherous Pacific at the border of international waterways. As they fight the elements just to survive, a Russian ship looks like it's about to plow right into them when the big waves hit. Instead the Russian ship goes down, and what pops up onto the deck of the American boat may be something deadly. After this tantalizing tease, we get to the meat of the tale.

Attorney Jocelyn "Joss" Cole has moved to a lovely but isolated spot among the San Juan Islands off the coast of Washington in order to escape the bustle and nastiness of Los Angeles. She is barely making ends meet with her small-time and slow-paying local clients when a man walks into her office and literally changes her life. Dean Belden is both handsome and rich,butfor the nearly broke Joss it's the rich part that counts. He hires her to represent his interests locally as he sets up a branch of his electronics company on the island of Friday Harbor. Not only will Joss get a healthy retainer for her services but her hourly charges triple for this new client. He is a bit of a mystery man, and when he calls her, worried about a subpoena, Joss wonders if Belden is packing more than circuits in his operation. But on some level, she's falling for Belden, and when he picks her up in his private plane, she knows that he's the stuff of romance fiction — and too good to be true.

But other storms are brewing on the horizon. Gideon Van Ry, a Dutchman who is the inspector for an international antiterrorist group, discovers a discrepancy in some journals about nuclear materials, so he jets to the source of the problem, a warehouse in Sverdlovsk that handles weapons storage for the new Russia. It turns out that, in all the black-marketeering of post-Soviet times, one minor official has been selling the evil stuff to someone — and it just might be a bizarre underground militia bent on anarchy in the U.S. Flashing back to the States, the curveball hits us as we meet various characters harboring both real and imagined gripes with the government at home, and gradually the threads of Martini's narrative weave together in one twisting and turning tapestry of high-stakes thrills. As Joss gets closer to the secrets that haunt Dean Belden, and as Gideon tracks those who wish to destroy America, Critical Mass reaches, well...critical mass.

This is one of those hot novels that brings the world into the main character's backyard, and Joss Cole is up for the fight. She's the real hero of this novel, despite the heroics and sacrifices of those around her; I'd compare her favorably with Clarice Starling in Thomas Harris's Silence of the Lambs, although Joss definitely is chasing down not psycho killers but the sanest of men with the insanest of plans. Great fun and tense reading, Critical Mass is Martini at his best. Highly recommended.

—Douglas Clegg

Douglas Clegg is the author of numerous horror and suspense novels, including The Halloween Man and Bad Karma, written under his pseudonym Andrew Harper. His recent Bram Stoker-nominated short story "I Am Infinite, I Contain Multitudes" can be found in the anthology The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror: Volume 11.

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Product Details

Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
4.20(w) x 6.74(h) x 0.97(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

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Critical Mass 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 10 reviews.
PhotoBySki More than 1 year ago
After reading Compelling Evidence, I became hooked on all books Steve Martini. He has quickly become among my very select top 5 authors! Why? Because Steve can tell a story.a great story.but you THINK you know where he's going, but he goes somewhere you never expected. Critical Mass is no exception. I will admit, the story starts out a little confusing.but quickly Steve ties everything all together nice and neat and then you are a fast train to the end. I won't spoil the book for you.but trust me when I tell you that you will not be disappointed. I've yet to be disappointed by a Steve Martini book. This book is not part of the Paul Madrini series.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Fast paced start to end
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Eriberto More than 1 year ago
Steven Martine has written great books (The List, The Judge, etc), however, this one tops them all... Great plot with a great twist for a perfect ending... Well done !!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Once I started this one there was no letting up! I just could not seem to put it down. By far one of his most thrilling novel yet.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I agree, this book took a few chapters to get started, but it is one of the best books I've read. It is way better than Martini's other books, which are very good.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I just finished reading Critical Mass. In the beginning you may not be sure you want to read this book but hang in there! It's a thriller that you won't want to put down. It leaves the reader with the same feeling that the early Grisham's did. I can't understand the reviews that didn't like this one.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The book is great! Great Story with the great ending. I have when nobody dies in the end.
Guest More than 1 year ago
In Critical Mass, Steve Martini has unfortunately switched from storyteller to ideologue. The result is a severe disappointment to those readers who greatly enjoyed the novelistic skills displayed by Martini in his previous books. In Critical Mass, he is obviously more interested in government-bashing than in plot and character building; and his bashing is both heavy-handed and clumsy. Regardless of the nature of Martini's politics, one can only view with dismay their misdirected injection into what might otherwise have been an engrossing novel. One can only hope that, in his future books, Martini returns to doing what he is good at.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Marvelous. Obviously, not for readers who take a narrow approach to politics or the law, but if you have an understanding of how the federal scheme works, and of the threat of nuclear terrorism, it is a top-notch read. I'm sorry that Martini has not returned to this genre. I hope he does. He's quite good. I have not read his other works, but, from what I've seen of them, he resembles the trite Grisham formula...and a Grisham novel is usually a disappointment, unless you're easily entertained.