The Barnes & Noble Review
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 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.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
A militia group in the Pacific Northwest becomes the world's newest nuclear power in this by-the-numbers thriller by the author of The List and The Judge. Lawyer Jocelyn "Joss" Cole sees a big retainer when she's hired by Dean Belden to handle his company's incorporation filings. But after Belden gets a federal subpoena, Joss sees him die in a fiery seaplane explosion. Now she's the only visible link to Belden's company (which was on the receiving end of two decaying nuclear weapons smuggled into the U.S. out of Russia), and that brings her to the attention of arms inspector Gideon van Ry, of the Institute Against Mass Destruction. After the feds determine that the militia has possession of the weapons, Gideon and Joss join the race to try to avert nuclear disaster. Of course, there are complications: the militia group is being fronted by a foreign power in order to circumvent U.S. nuclear retaliation policy, and the President is in CYA (cover-your-ass) overdrive because his party accepted a campaign contribution from the chief Russian culprit. But even with a SEAL assault on the militia stronghold, double crosses galore and an ingenious ending, the book offers too few surprises, too little suspense and too little emotional involvement. The characters have no inner life, and the plotting is sketchy from the start, when it's explained that dummies were used to cover up for the two missing nukes--dummies that conveniently drop off the weapons count while there's still time to foil the bad guys. The few crucial coincidences stick out like red flags because Martini makes more of them than he makes of the people around them. (Sept.)
School Library Journal
YA--Intense military action combines with international intrigue to make this nuclear-age thriller a page-turner. The story starts out with numerous plots and characters, each interesting in itself, and all are pulled together by a gripping conclusion. Jocelyn Cole, an attorney living on a remote island in Puget Sound, is hired to represent a client incorporating his electronics business. After her client is subpoenaed to testify before the federal grand jury for international armaments smuggling, Jocelyn watches in horror as his plane explodes, with him onboard. She is then assaulted and held hostage by her "dead" client on an island where a homegrown militia is assembling a nuclear device. The bomb is destined for Washington, D.C. The clock ticks ominously as Jocelyn and an employee of the Institute Against Mass Destruction race to stop the detonation. The unique glimpse into the manufacturing, storing, and eventual decay of the nuclear arsenal stored around the globe makes this an insightful, informative, and terrifying novel.--Anita Short, W. T. Woodson High School, Fairfax, VA
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.