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Critical Mass
     

Critical Mass

3.5 19
by Whitley Strieber
 

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What would we do if a nuclear weapon was detonated in Washington, and the US government suddenly disappeared? What would we do if a terrorist organization announced that it had concealed nuclear weapons in ever major western city and then demanded that the entire planet embrace its twisted brand of Muslin fundamentalism?

In Critcal Mass, nuclear

Overview

What would we do if a nuclear weapon was detonated in Washington, and the US government suddenly disappeared? What would we do if a terrorist organization announced that it had concealed nuclear weapons in ever major western city and then demanded that the entire planet embrace its twisted brand of Muslin fundamentalism?

In Critcal Mass, nuclear interdiction expert James Deutsh and his tormented Muslim wife, Nabila, struggle to stop an impending nuclear attack on an American city. Along the way, they delve deep into the hidden world of nuclear terrorism and the experts who strive to contain it, and get a compelling look at the titanic battle within Islam over its own future—fundamentalist and rejecting, or compassionate and life-embracing?

Like Whitley Strieber's classics Warday and The Coming Global Superstorm, Critical Mass is torn straight from the dark pages of a very dangerous and very possible future.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

In this overheated thriller about nuclear terrorism from bestseller Strieber (2012: The War for Souls), Jim Deutsch, a CIA contract employee whose expertise is counterproliferation, has the world's fate in his hands as he races to foil the Islamic master-terrorist known as the Madhi. When Deutsch learns that some plutonium has been smuggled over the U.S. border from Mexico, he begins to suspect that America's elaborate homeland security apparatus has been compromised. His valiant efforts, alas, aren't enough to prevent the destruction of Las Vegas. As U.S. president William Fitzgerald ponders whether to launch devastating counterattacks aimed at much of the Muslim world, the tension rises, but the impact is undercut by some uneven prose ("She looked back at him as if from another dimension, her gaze resplendent with the unquenchable hope of youth, her mother's proud lips, determined, supremely confident that her dad was the great man she believed him to be"). (Feb.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
From the Publisher
"Whitley Strieber's Critical Mass is one hell of a book—a frighteningly plausible conspiracy-thriller that is so real it sometimes feels like an expose. Nuclear killers, lovers on the run, all-knowing, omnipresent listening and seeing devices - Critical Mass conjures up a world that is terrifying in its technological plausibility - if not probability."—Douglas Preston, New York Times bestselling author of Blasphemy

"Nothing less than a certifiable page-turner. As I was reading it, I kept seeing the story unfolding on the big screen, just like The Day After Tomorrow. The threat of a nuclear strike against the U.S. is very real and very chilling, as are the kinds of people Strieber has conjured up in this really exciting yarn."—David Hagberg, USA Today bestselling author of Dance with the Dragon

"Engrossing . . . A first rate exercise in literary paranoia."—Publisher's Weekly on The Grays

"[A] truly spooky sci-fi tale."—People on The Grays

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780765322531
Publisher:
Doherty, Tom Associates, LLC
Publication date:
02/17/2009
Edition description:
First Edition
Pages:
304
Product dimensions:
6.10(w) x 9.20(h) x 1.20(d)

Read an Excerpt

Critical Mass


By Whitley Strieber

Tom Doherty Associates

Copyright © 2009 Whitley Strieber
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-9204-6


CHAPTER 1

NIGHT RIDE


Jim Deutsch was driving much too fast, but it was urgent that he interview the children before they died. He was not close to the end of this investigation, and they almost certainly possessed crucial information. If he did not get it, he had not the slightest doubt that more people were going to be joining them in death — many more, and soon.

What he had to find out was something he was very much afraid he already knew: why these little children, just smuggled in from Mexico, were radioactive. He had spent his career in counterproliferation, and the sudden appearance of radiation-sick kids in a border town was a definite worry. Of course, they could have been brought over in a truck full of smuggled X-ray isotopes, or gotten into some other innocuous material. But he doubted that. He had to get solid evidence and work it up convincingly, in order to get the massive search going that he feared was needed.

When the speedometer moved through a hundred, he forced himself to let the car slow down. He took a deep breath, held it, then let it out. He loosened his hands, and felt blood rush back into his fingers.

The South Texas countryside rolled past, a wilderness of mesquite brush, the sky to the west deep orange. To his Connecticut eye, it was almost hellishly ugly. But his was a war fought in nightmarish places, and this terrain was certainly better than dry, stripped Afghanistan, or the lethal, magnificent mountains of Iran.

When the brush gave way to threadbare fields, he glimpsed cattle staring and old oil wells pumping with a lazy sensuality. He could imagine the Texans of the past racing up and down this road in their Cadillacs and Lincolns, whooping. Wildcatters, they had been called, those buccaneers of the oil fields.

He had been in many of the world's isolated places, and felt here the same disappointing and reassuring silence. Cities with their bustle and promise lured him, and also repelled him. He liked to hang out at Dom u Dorogi in Moscow listening to blues, or Sway in New York, with its Middle Eastern decor that always drew him into his memories. In the end, though, he would need the night and the silence where he had made his life. He would need the danger, foolish addiction that it was.

Ahead, a figure rode a horse right down the middle of the highway, a silhouette against the late sky. With foolhardy and trusting slowness, the old man walked his beast onto the shoulder. Jim shot past him at a distance of no more than thirty feet, glimpsing a narrow man on a tall roan. He seemed so needful, slouching along in the last sun, that Jim wished he had prayer left in him.

Again, he let his rented Taurus ease back to eighty. Mesquite brush whipped past, now. To the west, the sky faded. Texas Highway 57 was as empty as any road he'd known in Siberia or Afghanistan.

He considered the dying children, ahead in the border town of Eagle Pass. He wanted to believe that they'd been brought across with some piece of smuggled radiological equipment. But that was the sort of thing that the suits at Langley would want to think, and that was what they must not be allowed to think. On his end of the intelligence community, you survived by expecting the worst. On their end, he who made waves was in the most danger. But their danger was demotion. His was death.

His fear was that a bomb had come across and it was in motion, right now. He needed to find it, or at least find its trail, and he thought it must start with these poor kids. If he got lucky, they'd have some specific information. If not, he'd take what he got and go from there.

He wished that he trusted the system, but he was far too experienced for that. If he had, he would have called this thing in the second he heard about those kids. But he had feared what would happen — he'd find himself looking at orders not to waste his time. Wrong orders, and they would result in catastrophe.

The front face of the intelligence community appeared formidable, but that was the work of media experts, not a reflection of reality. It was the filter of analysis in the secret rooms that didn't work, and not understanding that — or not accepting it — had been his potentially fatal mistake. He had assumed that the system would absorb the information that he and his strings of agents gathered, and respond correctly.

But that hadn't happened when he was in Afghanistan or Pakistan or Siberia, so here he was in Texas, chasing after nukes that should have been caught before they left whatever benighted place they had come from. Instead, they were here, and the Mexican border was now the front line of a battle that belonged twelve thousand miles away.

Something had been wrong out there, very wrong. The CIA had extensive operations devoted to monitoring the nuclear materials black market. He had been part of that, operating out of U.S. embassies, and available to do things like penetrate storage facilities and inventory their contents. He was also good at finding people and obtaining information. He was good at running, too. He'd escaped across many a border in his time.

But he shouldn't have needed to do that sort of thing. He shouldn't have been compromised, not ever. After 9/11, there had been a number of decoy companies created by the CIA to draw the interest of terrorists and smugglers by operating things like false weapons sales organizations.

But there had been dissention about these fronts. They hadn't attracted their targets because they'd been too far from the centers of Muslim extremism — all except one, Brewster Jennings, which had operated in the Middle East and had been effective.

However, Jim had believed since he had first engaged with it in 2002 that it was penetrated by somebody. Soon after he began working with this organization, his life had become dangerous. People knew. Turkish intelligence had him identified. Friends in Pakistani intelligence warned him that they were building a dossier on his activities.

Then had come the Valerie Plame affair in 2003, and the name of her front operation, which was Brewster Jennings, became as famous a name as Microsoft or Toyota.

The result of all this was simple: too many men like him had been compromised. Some must have lost their lives. He, who had been working halfway across the world, was now working in the United States, because there was now fissionable material in Mexico, possibly in Canada, too, and it was on its way here, no question.

As he sped toward the dying children, the fear he lived with every second of his life rose up in him, the sick, desperate urgency that dragged him awake nights and haunted his days. He was in the dark and he was falling, and he could not stop falling.

Somewhere along the road, every intelligence agent meets a demon question, one that absolutely must be answered but that has no answer, and Jim's fear told him that his was lying in the hospital at the end of this road.

His stomach forced acid into his throat as he churned down the two-lane highway, speeding through silent towns called Batesville and La Pryor. Between them, he pushed the Taurus hard. Surely there wouldn't be a highway patrolman hiding along here, to come out with his lights flashing and entangle Jim in delay. His car was waking up buzzards asleep on the roadside, for God's sake.

He operated out of Dallas, where he officed in a little cell in the Earle Cabell Federal Building, just down the hall from the FBI. He was now a CIA contract employee, his status a fiction that allowed him — allegedly — to work within the continental United States. He suspected that his activities were not legal. He suspected that if he ever ended up under the bright lights of a congressional hearing, he would be alone.

He'd been transferred here from Kabul six months ago, after a quarter ton of U235 had been intercepted on its way into Laredo and his supervisors had finally understood that the danger they had been fighting in distant places had arrived on their doorstep. He liased with the FBI Weapons of Mass Destruction coordinator in Dallas, which was another problem. The Office of National Intelligence might have improved interagency cooperation at the top, but the old "stovepipe" system still operated when it came to the nuts and bolts of intelligence gathering. His FBI counterparts shared only what they were legally required to share. Or did they? Did he, for that matter?

To counteract his lack of eyes and ears, he'd requested the right to recruit in the field, but had been turned down. These past few months, he could have used some good agents along the border, really used them.

Maybe then he would have been on top of this case before children lay dying. Maybe he would have made an interception. But this was going to be a chase, because whatever had been on its way across the border was now in country and being positioned.

U-235 didn't matter. This would not turn out to be about uranium. In fact, he thought the U-235 that had been brought over before was a test carried out to see how U.S. safeguards worked.

Nuclear materials are hard to detect if they're properly shielded. The most reliable detection systems react not only to radiation but also to the presence of the kind of bulk necessary to conceal it.

Whatever he was chasing now had been highly radioactive, and it had been brought across with illegals, probably in a truck. Could it be plutonium dioxide, perhaps, ready to be transformed into a metal, or intended to be used in some sort of low-yield bomb? It was shipped as a powder, which could have leaked. But if that was the case, why hadn't the radiation detectors on whatever bridge it had crossed screamed bloody murder?

Maybe, while the truck was on the bridge, there had been nothing to detect. No leaks. But the new systems were designed to see shielding as well as emissions, and there were new brand-new detectors in Eagle Pass; he'd seen the installation reports. They would have seen a bomb, surely.

But for whatever reason, they hadn't.

At this morning's meeting, the regional Weapons of Mass Destruction coordinator, Cynthia Spears, had read a report from the Laredo Field Office about the radioactive kids. "They are illegals aged ten, eight, and four, believed to have been off-loaded by coyotes when they got sick."

The moment he'd heard those words, he'd booked a flight to San Antonio, then been compelled to drive from there because of the lack of air service to Eagle Pass. He knew little about the community. In 2007, the mayor had refused to allow Homeland Security surveyors to enter the town to survey for the wall. Later, it had been built, but it was of no concern to Jim. Walls had no relevance to him. The things that concerned him came across bridges in disguise, not through the river under cover of night.

The more he thought about it, the more certain he became that he was dealing with plutonium and that these children had somehow been exposed during handling, after it had crossed the border.

Plutonium was potentially much more of a threat than highly enriched uranium. It took far less plutonium to make a bomb, and therefore it was more portable. But it was also harder to make plutonium go critical and explode. If the builders had the right parts, though — well, it was possible. You could even get a low-yield plutonium bomb out of a simple gun-type detonation system of the kind used with uranium bombs.

Every country that had ever produced nuclear weapons materials had experienced some loss. Most highly enriched uranium and plutonium that had been lost by Western governments was accounted for in one way or another. But that was not true of Russia. During the collapse of the Soviet Union, highly enriched uranium and plutonium had gone missing and so had numerous critical parts.

He drove harder than ever, pushing the car relentlessly. In the movies, he would have had access to a government-issue Gulfstream or something. In the real world, no chance.

He fought the illusion that the road was actually getting longer, stretching away in front of him like an expanding rubber band.

This came from the desert lights phenomenon, the sense that distant lights weren't getting closer. For a fair amount of time, he'd seen lights ahead — but at least it was a city, and not the dim cluster of lanterns that marked most settlements along the ragged edges of the world.

"Come on," he muttered. Were the lights receding?

Nah, the Global Positioning System now had him twelve miles out. Experimentally, he opened his cell phone. Nope. Okay, noted. At least he was not going into some squat Kazakh burg full of bored sadists in threadbare uniforms who would thoroughly enjoy a night of waterboarding an American.

Gradually, the lights resolved into individual buildings, an Exxon station, a trailer back from the road, and he was soon moving through the outskirts of Eagle Pass.

But no, this was the middle of town. Eagle Pass appeared to be all outskirts, but it was low-slung, that was all, and quiet at this hour. A peaceful place.

Towns like Ozersk and Trekhgorny and Seversk, where he'd worked from time to time, might be isolated, but they were more lively than this at night. Drunk Russians — which after a certain hour in Siberia is, essentially, everybody — do not go gently. But here in this little border town, you sensed a peace, the same peace you felt throughout the developed world. He called it profound peace, soul peace. Eagle Pass enjoyed the same soul peace that blessed the rest of America. People felt safe here, which was another reason that things like 9/11 were so destructive. They slammed the American spirit right in the face.

Of course, human and drug smuggling were big business on the Mexican side of the border, and the violence involved was certainly known to cross over. Still, this was very certainly not the third world.

In cities like Islamabad or Kabul or Tashkent, you can smell the old, sour stench of hate, and see the fear that lives in people's eyes, the blood-soaked remembrance of crimes long past, and waiting retribution. You come back to this country after a few years of that and you want to kiss the ground.

Then he saw it ahead, the outline of a big building just visible in the last light. The hospital. Inside, maybe a key that would save a million lives and, with them, the way of life now called freedom. The dying children and, God willing, some clues.

He drove into the parking lot, pulled the car in between a weathered Toyota and a Ford truck. How deeply American was this place, how kind and how very ordinary.

He got out of the car and hurried toward the great, dark building to challenge its secrets.

CHAPTER 2

DELIVERANCE BY DEATH


As he approached the hospital's wide main doors, instinct made him check the locations of fire escapes and exits, count the stories, and note whether or not you could get off the roof. He had no reason to be concerned; it was just habit.

The lobby was large, the floors white and polished. There were people sitting here and there in the chairs, some reading, others simply waiting. He passed the gift shop and a row of plantings, and approached the information desk. There was faint music, no hospital smell, a sense of order.

He remembered hospitals like great broken skeletons, echoing with the voices of the unattended.

"I'm Dr. Henry Franklin," he lied to the receptionist. "I have an appointment to visit the Morales children."

She punched at a keyboard. "Uh, uh-oh, they're critical. I'm afraid they're in intensive care, no visitors."

"I'm from the Centers for Disease Control," he said, the falsehood emerging with practiced smoothness.

She made a call, spoke Spanish. "There's a guy out here. I think it's a reporter. He's claiming to be from CDC."

He was a fair linguist, which was one of the reasons he had been an efficient case officer. He rarely let people he dealt with know when he spoke their language, and he didn't do that now.

"May I see some identification?"

He drew out his wallet and showed her the CDC card he'd armed it with. As a nominal CIA operative, he had access to a variety of false IDs, some of which he could use legally, all of which could survive an in-depth background check ... he hoped.

"Please, Doctor, come with me," a nurse in green scrubs said. She'd appeared silently, a young woman whose dark looks reminded him of his former wife, the gorgeous Nabila, still present in his heart. She was furiously complex and needed urgently to be cherished — too Arab, in the end, to endure an unruly American husband such as himself.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Critical Mass by Whitley Strieber. Copyright © 2009 Whitley Strieber. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Whitley Strieber is the bestselling author of more than twenty-five books, including Warday, Nature's End, and The Coming Global Superstorm, which is the basis of the movie The Day After Tomorrow.

Paul Boehmer is a seasoned actor who has appeared on Broadway, film, and television, including The Thomas Crown Affair and All My Children. Coinciding with another of his passions, sci-fi, Paul has been cast in various roles in many episodes of Star Trek.

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Critical Mass 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 19 reviews.
Bibliophante More than 1 year ago
I would consider Whitley Strieber rather bold for taking on a such a heavily dramatic scenario as he does in Critical Mass. The book ripples with intensity vis-a-vis politics and religion, those two no-no topics for day-to-day conversations. Even though this is a fictional work, the state of international affairs is quite real, and consequently, created a heaviness in my heart and mind as I read the book. The situation played out in Critical Mass is plausible to me, and I think that's why I read the whole thing with a voracious appetite. That, and I couldn't help but picture Harrison Ford as the book's main character-- a character who, I believe, closely resembles Ford's Jack Ryan. Needless to say, the pace and action are intense, and I'm glad to have had Striber give the reader the perspectives of all the many players in the game, not just American government official and operatives but also other world leaders, the terrorists, and the Average Joe. If you're ready for a strong dose of heavy drama and globe-spanning intelligence operations, then this Thriller is a read for you.
harstan More than 1 year ago
Contractor Jim Deutsch works for the CIA as a NBC (nuclear, biological, chemical) expert whose prime specialty is nukes though he has been involved in preventing the sale or development of the other weapons of mass destruction. He learns that Islamic terrorist Madhi has obtained weapons graded plutonium that he has smuggled into the U.S. from Mexico and concludes homeland security has failed to protect the border. Mahdi announces he has nukes planted throughout the western United States.

To prove his assertion, he nukes Las Vegas. A stunned President William Fitzgerald considers nuking the Muslim world back into the stone age, globalized tension rises as the crisis seems out of control with Middle East governments considering their options and Mahdi ready to destroy another city if his demands for a Muslim fundamentalist world, Mahdi style is not met.

CRITICAL MASS is a fascinating look at efforts to counter the flow of nuclear weapons around the globe. The story line is action-packed with dedicated Jim and his Muslim wife struggling to prevent further tragedy from happening. Although the language turns oddly poetic at crisis moments which jars the reader, Whitley Strieber provides an exciting thriller based on the very plausible concept of nukes ending up in the hands of a fanatic.

Harriet Klausner
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jackgold More than 1 year ago
This was an only OK book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
People thought nothing would top the attacks on September 11th. they were wrong. Whitley Strieber's bestseller is a "frighteningly plausible conspiracy thriller that it feels like an exposé (revealing)" (Douglas Preston, New York Times). It opens with the introduction of Jim Deutsch, an expert in the field of nuclear weapons and a CIA agent. Under his many identities, he is unknown by the rest of the world. He quickly finds that an Islamic terrorist -- the Madhi -- has bypassed a corrupted border patrol station and planted plutonium bombs within highly populated cities of the United States. Racing against time, Deutsch struggles to stop Madhi's hidden terrorist group -- the Inshalla. It is their goal to convert the world to Islam and rid it of the "Crusaders" who have brought evil to the land. With little to no information to go on, Jim faces disaster. Before he can make it on time, the terrorists set off a bomb twice the size of Hiroshima in Las Vegas. World leaders are warned and Earth spirals into a chaotic disaster. The Madhi offers peace as long as every country renounces their faith to Allah. In effort to gain more time for Deutsch and the rest of the undercover intelligence force, the President agrees to the terrorist's demands. Jim fights to change the world's future, but the bombers resist backing down. It is no longer a battle for safety; it is a battle of peace, religion, and love. Some of the major themes within the novel include the idea that fear causes people to become unwise. Within the story the President is faced with a decision that could determine the outcome of millions of lives. "Mr. President. I'm not sure well," is something nobody would every think of hearing from his most supportive cabinet (Whitley 302). When bombs, terrorism, and massacres are utilized, chaos and hysteria are the automatic response by the entire world. Another moral displayed within this mass seller is the concept that love empowers people to do things they never do ordinarily. Beyond all of the problems, stress, and letdowns of life, love is there to pick a person back on their feet. Towards the end of the novel, Jim's "draws [his ex-wife] away from him" when he is faced with a bomb set to destroy the entire capital (Whitley 347). With a torn Achilles and possible internal bleeding, Jim runs to a moving plane carrying his love and a bomb. Passion for Nabila is what allowed him to overcome his pain, not his own strength. Critical Mass is an amazing overall read. The plot itself is so well developed that it is quite impossible to put the book down. What I like most about this specific author is his ability to establish clear credibility in his writing. This includes his well-educated background on the subject and use of clear-cut statistics. The only thing I would dislike about this book is that Whitley never establishes the characters personal appearance all to great. The reader is able to understand the personalities of some of the main characters such as Jim, Nabila, and Madhi, but it is almost impossible to imagine their physical traits. However, I would still recommend this book to any young adult and older as it is a thriller one will never forget. The book itself takes the audience on a ride to a very hazardous, troubling, and quite possible future.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Both my wife and I were grabbed by this story. I was up a couple of late nights because I was so hooked on the story. It is similar to other terrorist themes but well put together and gripping. We can only hope it never happens.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
KenCady More than 1 year ago
There is a blurb on the cover of Critical Mass by Douglas Preston, whose book Blasphemy I liked so much. When he tells me that I am holding in my hands "a frighteningly plausible conspiracy thriller" it gets my attention, so I bought the book. What I got was a little different, or so I think. Whitley Streiber has a grand idea for a thriller, with nukes being hidden in large cities and the world scared out of its mind. It's Muslims v. Christians again, but this book does not read like a classic thriller. It's no page turner. Rather, Streiber takes the time to put some intelligence of the brain kind in the story, so he often interrupts the thrill to explain this or that on behalf of the character, or the situation. Well, I can't fault that. I found the book to be more interesting than thrilling, and, even in the last 30 pages I had no trouble putting the book down to do something else. But it is a good book, worthy of buying.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
loves_to_readEV More than 1 year ago
It's hard to me to say... I really liked most of the book (i will not give away much) but there were things I thought were really stupid. I felt toward the end a little impatient.... but overall it held my attention.
JAlfred More than 1 year ago
Possible scenario but almost a stretch. Good entertainment.
Armyvet More than 1 year ago
Critical Mass by Whitley Strieber is not a credible story. It is impossible to introduce a nuclear weapon on US soil because of NEST, the Nuclear Emergency Search Team. The difficulty in smuggling a nuclear weapon or nuclear components into the United States was researched while I wrote my novel The Cruise, ISBN 9781438914718, thru Author House under the pen name Edouard DesLauriers. The Cruise is a novel about nuclear terrorism on a cruise ship. The technologies used by NEST would unmask any nuclear material brought into the United States in very quick order. A lot of research went into The Cruise to include some cloaking methods the terrorists used which, frankly, I don't think would work against NEST capabilities. But even my cloaking methods were based on science, and a good fiction story must have solid roots in fact. Critical Mass is on very shaky ground based on what NEST can do. It protects the United States against a nuclear attack with classified overflights monitoring the United States 24/7. Satellite surveillance is also included. Without NEST Critical Mass is a good read; but with the existing technologies used by NEST, Critical Mass falls short.