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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


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.

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.

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
Kirkus Reviews
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.

Product Details

Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
Sold by:
Penguin Group
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File size:
1 MB
Age Range:
18 Years

Meet the Author

A writer before he was an attorney, Mr. Martini worked as a newspaper reporter in Los Angeles and a capital correspondent at the state house in Sacramento, California. It was while he covered the “Helter Skelter” murder trial, and watched prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi in action, that he became interested in the law.

An honors graduate at the University of California at Santa Cruz, Mr. Martini holds his law degree from the University of the Pacific’s McGeorge School of Law. He has written widely on the law and politics, having covered both state and federal courts, the state legislature, and the administrations of governors Ronald Reagan and Jerry Brown.

In 1974 Mr. Martini entered private law practice with the Sacramento firm of CoBen, Cooper and Zilaff where he represented clients in both civil and criminal matters. In 1976 he joined the staff of the State Bar of California and was selected as one of three representatives of the Bar assigned to appear regularly before the California State Legislature. Mr. Martini has drafted numerous pieces of legislation affecting California’s justice system. Among other items, he was instrumental in crafting ballot arguments for a constitutional overhaul of the state’s Commission on Judicial Appointments and the Commission on Judicial Qualifications, the agencies charged with confirming those nominated to the appellate courts in California and disciplining errant judges.

In 1986 he was appointed by the Governor to serve as Deputy Director of the State Office of Administrators Hearings. He has served as an administrative judge and as a special council on assignment from the Governor’s Office to the California Victims of Violent Crimes Program.

From his first book through his last, Martini has garnered both critical and popular praise for his New York Times bestselling novels. To date, he has authored ten books, The Simeon Chamber, Compelling Evidence, Prime Witness, Undue Influence, The Judge, The List, Critical Mass, The Attorney, The Jury  and The Arraignment, as well as numerous news articles and commentary on the law and politics. His novel The Judge was made into an NBC-TV miniseries that starred Chris Noth and aired in May 2001. Mr. Martini lives on the West Coast.

Brief Biography

Date of Birth:
February 28, 1946
Place of Birth:
San Francisco, California
B.A., University of California, Santa Cruz, 1968; J.D., University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law, 1974

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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.