“Napier deftly mix[es] history, science, and fiction.”—Publishers Weekly
“The most exciting book I have ever read.” —Arthur C. Clarke on Nemesis
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An unidentified object crashes from the sky into an Arizona canyon, releasing anthrax spores and leaving innocent victims in its wake. Investigators are shocked by what they find in the rubble: a swastika. They call upon former spy and World War II–era weapons expert Lewis Sharp for help. Could this be a biochemical weapon designed by the Nazis half a
An unidentified object crashes from the sky into an Arizona canyon, releasing anthrax spores and leaving innocent victims in its wake. Investigators are shocked by what they find in the rubble: a swastika. They call upon former spy and World War II–era weapons expert Lewis Sharp for help. Could this be a biochemical weapon designed by the Nazis half a century ago—or is it an elaborate hoax? Sharp is convinced that it's the real McCoy and he warns that two more killing machines are still out there, primed and ready to strike…
The attacker has left a cryptic note hinting at an another attack. Now, it's up to Sharp to piece together a sixty-year-old mystery—one that spans from a convent in Hitler's Germany to Hollywood, the Executive Branch to shadowy third-world governments. Sharp and his colleagues have just five days left to stop the weapon from unleashing mass destruction—and leading the world to the brink of a whole new kind of war…
“Napier deftly mix[es] history, science, and fiction.”—Publishers Weekly
“The most exciting book I have ever read.” —Arthur C. Clarke on Nemesis
Phoenix and Chamonix:
FRIDAY, PRESENT DAY
FOSSIL CREEK, ARIZONA, 0430
Under a brilliant Milky Way, the figures are puny. Bent double, they might be crabs scuttling over rocks, and the whump-whump filling the air around them the wing beats of some giant mythical bird. But as the big Chinook soars up and away, its navigation lights off, the creek returns to a silence broken only by the gurgling river.
Dressed like astronauts, they work swiftly, using subdued flashlights to set up trestle tables, microscopes, and flasks. The heavy gloves turn this into a clumsy operation. Only then do they begin to explore the creek, and it is fifteen minutes before they find Joe Wupatki at the edge of the river. His cell phone is clutched tightly in his hand. His face is black and blistered, his eyes are staring, and his facial muscles are still contorted by his last efforts to breathe.
It was never established just what Joe Wupatki was doing in Fossil Creek at two o'clock in the morning, and it had been hard to take his flying saucer call seriously. Nevertheless he was a respected elder of the Tonto Apache reservation, and if Old Joe said he'd seen a UFO crashing in the creek, then so be it. This was the logic that sent the first patrol car out from Payson.
Within half an hour the solitary patrolman reported that he had reached Strawberry and was about to turn west, onto the unsafe, unpaved road that plunges steeply down the Mogollon Rim to Fossil Creek. This was his last message. When he failed to respond to calls, a second patrolman was sent out. When he, too, fell silent, three more cars were dispatched from Flagstaff, a good hour to the north. These were high-clearance, four-wheel-drive vehicles — the report had come from remote, rugged hill country — and the officers, by now sensing trouble, took rifles.
Arriving at the Strawberry turnoff, one of these officers managed to croak a few garbled, choking words, but the telephonist could make no sense of them, and from then on the vehicle's radio sent only the occasional indistinct noise, like tapping or bumping, and what might have been groaning. These sounds, too, eventually stopped.
As the mysterious silence continued, the dispatcher, by now on her own in the little police station, became increasingly agitated. Her nerve finally gave out and just after four o'clock she roused her boss, who called Phoenix Air Support, who sent out a Eurocopter. It drifted up and down the Mogollon Rim road, saw nothing until, up the Rim, it scanned a little parking lot next to an all-night diner just outside Strawberry. The Nightsun illuminated a dozen corpses scattered over the tarmac, some in police uniform. At least they were presumed to be corpses since they weren't moving and were lying in various unnatural positions. The police vehicles, three of them, still had headlights on. One had smashed into the side of the diner.
A chain of dead-of-night phone calls followed, and as the bowl of night faded from black to dark blue to deep scarlet, the sun rose to reveal men and women, protective suits now pink in the Arizona dawn, swarming over the base of the pine-covered canyon. Their findings triggered a series of events that would, inside a week, lead to the brink of war.
"I have a gun."
The woman in the front passenger seat turns, surprised and suddenly alarmed. In the dark, she can make out a thin, pockmarked face.
"In case a little persuasion ..."
"It won't be needed."
At least I hope not. She checks her surroundings against the GPS screen. "Nearly there."
There are lights ahead and to the left, below them; that has to be Chamonix. The monstrous peak to the right, its top in blackness, must be Mont Blanc. A string of lights marks out the route of a cable car, disappearing into cloud like an illuminated Jack's Beanstalk. "Up there."
"Up there? Are you sure?" the driver wants to know with a touch of alarm, and he wants to know in French: La bas? Vous êtes sur? He swings the car in front of a passing truck and the truck driver hoots angrily, but then they are off the main highway, onto a narrow, steep, winding road with a surface made of compacted snow. Already big snowflakes are streaming across the headlight beams: a skirmishing patrol. The main army is billowing down from the summit.
A mobile phone rings in the woman's pocket. She listens for a few seconds and puts it back without replying. "Weather's closing in. If we're not at Sallanches in forty minutes, the pilot will refuse to fly."
"Quarante minutes? Mais c'est impossible, ça." The driver hardly seems under control of the car, which is slithering dangerously on the hairpin bends, wheels spinning.
"Hello, Lewis. It's been what, a year?"
Thin, shivering, in her midforties. Short white hair, astute eyes, sharp nose and the collar of a long red coat pulled up around her neck. Never one for humor, her face seems harsher than he remembers it.
"Hello, Jocelyn. How did you find me?"
"We seek him here, we seek him there. You're a damned elusive man, Lewis. I'll explain as we go." Snow is already beginning to blanket the car parked outside. He can just make out two dark figures within. Someone has left a trail in the deep snow. It disappears round the side of the chalet.
"London." She catches his glance. "French Secret Service. Lewis, you did get the call?"
"I've done the White Queen flashing red, Jocelyn. Please get someone else."
"There is no one else."
"Didn't you hear me? I'm off the list, finished with it."
A faint sound from behind. Lewis turns. A man is standing in the hallway, smiling apologetically. He is dusted with snow and his boots are white.
Jocelyn says, "Sorry, Lewis. But you're only off the list when we say so."
The pilot slides open a side window and stares down, his eyes searching anxiously. Momentarily, a freezing blizzard gusts around the cabin. Sharp thinks about the pinnacles around and realizes with a surge of fear, The idiot's lost! Next to him, in the rear seats and out of the pilot's hearing, the woman's brow is clammy. "The prime minister asked for you, on my recommendation. Against stiff opposition, I may say."
Sharp stares. "Jocelyn, I'm a cook in a two-star restaurant."
"We don't want you for your pepperoni pizza."
"Item One. A crank letter arrived at Downing Street this morning." She is having to raise her voice against the noise of the engine. In the back-scattered light of the headlamps, Sharp can see that her face is white. The little propeller plane is bumping like a speedboat on a rough sea, and he feels his own stomach turning queasy. He has given up trying to make his seat belt work and is gripping the armrests of his seat.
"They must get these all the time."
"By the sackload, they tell me. Item Two. Twelve hours ago there was a bioweapons attack on an Indian reservation in Arizona." She pulls a laptop out of her black briefcase.
Sharp watches the movie, the men in protective suits, the FBI, the reservation and state police crawling over the site, which is scattered with thousands of metal shards. Halfway through he says, "I recognize him."
"Merrifield, the undersecretary of defense."
"Okay, I give up. How do an Arizona explosion and a crank letter connect?"
"The Arizona attack isn't yet public knowledge. But whoever wrote the letter knows all about it." She rummages in a briefcase.
"Jocelyn, I don't want to hear this." He feels his brow wet, from fear and nausea.
"I know. Take a look anyway." She clicks on an overhead light; in the light, the MI6 officer looks as if she could vomit at any moment.
The folder is marked TOP SECRET and carries the MI6 logo — a brain within a green c topped by a crown. Sharp turns the pages. The aerial photographs draw his attention. There are the familiar features that he'd hoped never to see again: fallen trees snapped off at the roots and radiating out from a powerful blast, their inner surfaces blackened. But there's something not quite right about them, things don't quite fit: The pattern isn't quite circular, and where is the bomb crater? Jocelyn says, "The bomb spread pulmonary anthrax spores ..."
"... about five kilometers downwind. It exploded on an Apache reservation and only about forty people died. But if this had gone off in Manhattan or London ... Oh God ... excuse me." She puts a paper bag to her mouth and Sharp tries not to look as she spews into it, making a lot of noise and gasping miserably in between bouts of throwing up. Then she makes her way unsteadily to the front of the aircraft, taps the pilot's shoulder, and waves the spew bag at him. The wipers are clicking briskly on the cockpit wind-screen to no effect: The aircraft's headlights are just illuminating a wall of snow. The pilot slides the window open, and Jocelyn's bag disappears into the night.
"Sorry about that," Jocelyn says, looking weak and relieved. To Sharp's perplexity she pulls out a makeup bag and does a perfect lipstick job in the bouncing aircraft.
"Jocelyn, I've retired, I'm out of it, I'm not going back to it. Comprendo?"
"Uh-huh. Keep reading."
Sharp turns more pages. He comes to a photograph showing an Indian reservation cop cradling a big hunk of metal in her hands. It is contorted from the pressure of the explosion, and the edges are jagged, and it is engraved. The engraving is about six inches across, distorted but easily recognizable. It shows an eagle, its head in profile and its feathered wings spread horizontally. The talons of this eagle hold a disk as big as the bird itself, and filling this disk is the ancient Sanskrit emblem of love and well-being. A swastika.
"A bomb with a swastika?"
"An anthrax bomb, Lewis. An anthrax bomb with a swastika. Which turns up in Arizona sixty years after the end of the war."
"I'm sorry but that's unbelievable."
Jocelyn continues: "It gets worse. I'm calling it a bomb, but it looks as if the device was disk-shaped and it actually flew. The local cops are calling it a flying saucer."
A flying saucer. A Nazi flying saucer. Something stirs at the back of Sharp's mind. He looks out of the window again but there is still nothing to be seen; only the red sweep of the aircraft's underlight reflecting back from dense streaming cloud. "Okay, the Nazis played with anthrax in the Third Reich but they never used it. And Nazi flying saucers are just comic book fantasy."
"Nevertheless there it is. We need your esoteric knowledge, Lewis. Nobody knows more about the Nazi secret weapon programs than you." She adds: "Except maybe Alec Duncan at King's College. He's the stiff opposition, by the way. He thinks you're a crank, a rank amateur, a dilettante, whatever."
"And you recommended this amateur two-star cook over a professor of modern history at Cambridge?"
"Come on, Lewis, we both know he's an over-the-hill pen pusher. Look how he got it wrong on the Nazi atom bomb. You know more than he does on the Hitler weapons. And you were a first-rate NBC officer, which Duncan never was." The plane suddenly takes a steep banking turn and dives. Papers float to the ceiling. For a moment Sharp thinks they are upside down; he looks out the window and glimpses ice and rock hurtling past; but then they level out.
"Sorry about that!" the pilot shouts back. He's trying for a devil-may-care tone, but the edginess in his voice comes through.
Sharp flicks through more pictures, trying to make out the details in the badly shaking aircraft. "For a weapon like this I'd look to China or North Korea, or maybe something from the old Soviet Biopreparat program. There are a lot of unemployed bioweapons scientists over there with hungry families."
"A plausible if scary thought, Lewis. But what about the swastika?"
"Can we get some sense of realism into this? How could a Nazi weapon get to Arizona? How come it suddenly appears on the scene sixty years after the war's end? And why explode it on an Indian reservation? Maybe it's a home-grown effort by local lunatics, the swastika put there to throw you off the scent."
"These are questions we want you to answer. The same terms as last time. A straight one hundred thousand pounds into the Aruba account. You access it through the same passport as before. Which you still have?"
"In a safe. But it's not worth it. Look what happened the last time." He peers out at the blackness. He can use the money — he needs it! But it really isn't worth it. He's finished with the pressure ... "Where do you come into it, Jocelyn?"
"I own you for the duration." She smiles but not too much in case Sharp thinks she is joking. "And a few others — you'll meet them shortly. I report to C, who informs the MOD, the prime minister, and the London Resilience Forum. Cobra's been activated and will meet twice daily until this thing is solved. As I said, not everybody's happy about having you on the team. There were — there are — questions about your suitability."
"About my suitability."
"Well, you have — how can I put it — dropped out. From a highflier with a promising career to a part-time cook in one spectacular plunge."
"Six have a dossier on me? Is that what it says?"
"You're the main man, Lewis."
"Let me off at Geneva and I'll find my own way back. By the way, has this guy flown a plane before?"
Jocelyn bites her lip, as if she is keeping frustration in check. "How are you making out as a cook?"
"I just help out in Franco's when there's an overload. I blew everything — severance pay and the last Aruba lump — on the chalet. I give lectures to students and historical societies in the winter. In the summer I write military histories."
"Is there any money in that?" She laces the question with cynicism.
"It's grim," Sharp admits. "I'm hoping the books will begin to pay the mortgage. Stuffed shirts like Duncan have been giving me sniffy reviews, but Joe Public seems to like my style and I'm acquiring a following. Look, Jocelyn, I'm making a new life for myself and I love everything I do." He waves the top-secret report. "I need this like a hole in the head."
"You sound like a man with a plan, Lewis. I suppose the long hair and the designer stubble are part of it? Well, I'm sorry to haul you away from the hippie lifestyle, but ..."
"... but your country needs you. Wave a flag, bang a drum, tootle a flute, and the yokels come running. Thanks, but I've done that. Not anymore."
"As it happens, your country does need you," she snaps. "We think another device like this one may be used against London a week today and in case you've lost track this is Saturday morning and we don't even know where to start looking and in case you didn't hear that I'll say it again we have seven days to save London and we don't know where to start and unfortunately I'm stuck with Lewis Pepperoni Sharp and I need you like a drowning man needs air. I don't like it, I don't want it, but there you are."
It takes Sharp several seconds, while Jocelyn watches his internal turmoil. "And you think this because some psycho wrote a letter?"
Tight-lipped, she hands over another sheet of paper in the bumping aircraft.CHAPTER 2
THREE LITTLE MAIDS:
DOWNING STREET, 0730
Three little maids from school are we, Meg, and Alec, and Tiffanee.
And boy, do we have something for you!
PINPOINT PUPILS eye pain oh what pain.
slow heart rate
incontinence, and how!
COMING YOUR WAY SOON in a flying saucer
And convulsions and paralysis, both at once, and rapid breathing and respiratory failure, both at once. Two impossible things before breakfast. Hubble bubble toil and trouble, roaring drunk and seeing double.
THE PLAGUE OF THEBES HA HA HA.
So every good tree bringeth forth fruit, but the trees alas are down ...
And Strawberry is not a fruit.
We're coming for you
And by the way
Sep 1 is the day
"What do our forensic psychologists say?" The prime minister looks across the table at a thin, serious blond woman. He is a small, thin man, smaller than she had imagined from his television images. He is sitting directly across from her, tie loose and jacket draped over the back of his chair.
The Home Office psychologist returns the look over the top of her half-moon spectacles. "There's very little to go on, Prime Minister. For example, for all we know the writer could be suffering from paranoid schizophrenia, but you might not pick that up in a short communication."
"If we could have it in simple language."
"The letter is bizarre, and we did look into whether this reveals some sort of thought disorder like derailment or incoherence, which could suggest delusional beliefs of some sort. I mean, how does a runny nose come from a flying saucer, or the Plague of Thebes follow from two impossible things before breakfast? Are we dealing with tangentiality here? But there are no other indicators such as semantic paraphasia, perseveration ..."
"Is he a nutter, Dr. Melrose?" the prime minister interrupts.
Excerpted from The Furies by Bill Napier. Copyright © 2009 Bill Napier. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Bill Napier was born in Perth, Scotland in 1940. He studied astronomy at Glasgow University and has spent most of his career as an astronomer at observatories in Scotland, Italy and Northern Ireland. He now lives in Southern Ireland with his wife and divides his time between writing novels and carrying out research with colleagues in the UK and California. He is an honorary professor in the Centre for Astrobiology at Cardiff University and has an asteroid -- 7096 Napier -- named after him (it pursues a chaotic, eccentric orbit but is not yet a collision hazard). He likes to cook but faces stiff competition from wife and children.
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This is a good book. Mixes history, a little sci-fi and action all altogether in one package. Great story line. I have read others of his. All good.
Bill Napier has produced a brilliant, thoughtful, absorbing, gripping and serious book. A must read. Deals with dark stuff in an original and frankly terrifying manner. He doesn't actually mention Moslems in the Furies, the only Germans hated by Bill Napier are Nazis (can't fault that myself). In his book Jewish people under the Nazis are the victims, as borne out by awful factual history of Germany in the 1930s and 1940s. Napier doesn't hate Americans or Catholics. There are some really bad hateful people in this book, mostly Nazis, but it's vital to distinguish between the literary characters and the author. I think to conflate author with characters is completely wrong. Stephen King writes about a bad dog in Cujo and the dog gets some bad treatment - doesn't mean he hates dogs. In the Hannibal Cannibal books the good Doctor is, well, hardly a good Doctor - doesn't mean the author hates Doctors - they are literary devices. I could go on. You get the point I'm sure. Anyway Napier is exploring some ideas in a way that jolts you out of torpor. No bad thing. A very good book indeed, very thought provoking.
I was very disappointed in this book. Bill Napier did a very good job showing his contempt for the Catholic Church Americans and Germans. while at the same time painting Muslims as victims. I had to stop reading about half way through. This is the worst piece of fiction I have read in over two years.