Journal Article:riday Harbor. The end of the world for some but the beginning for others. In the case of Steve Martini's latest thriller, it is the beginning and the end. Jocelyn Cole is a former Los Angeles attorney who, at 32, decided the congested freeways and people-strangled streets of California's largest city were not for her. She took the Washington State bar exam, passed it and moved to Friday Harbor, a village in the San Juan Islands 90 minutes by ferry from Anacortes, Wash. She quickly became a local and began what was supposed to be a quiet, general law practice with none of the attributes of the big city practice she left behind. She did not realize that the convergence of place and time would conspire to thrust her into the middle of a terrorist group's attempt to wage a secret war on America with aged nuclear devices. To Jocelyn, her first real clients were simple fishermen who suffered from a disease that was killing them. She did not know the source of the disease, and the doctors on the island were baffled about the identity of the disease. What the fishermen did not tell her or the doctors was that they had picked up illicit cargo dropped from Russian trawlers. They did not know that the cargo was highly radioactive and consisted of the essential components of nuclear devices being assembled on one of the islands near Friday Harbor. Meanwhile, in Santa Crista, Calif., at the Institute Against Mass Destruction, Gideon van Ry was mulling over a message he had received from a friend in Moscow. The message indicated that a nuclear stockpile facility in Sverdlovsk was missing some plutonium materials used in making nuclear bombs. Gideon, a Dutch citizen, works at the institute whose mission is to monitor country's nuclear weapons activities. After he traveled to Sverdlovsk, his worst fears were confirmed: nuclear materials have been sold to civilians and delivered off the coast of Washington State. Enter Dean Richard Belden, an alias for a terrorist for hire, who has gathered the members of an American militia group as well as a few foreign nuclear bomb specialists to carry out a project for an unnamed employer. He went to Jocelyn for legal assistance in setting up a corporation and paid her a retainer that was large enough to get her attention. He then asked her to advise him in connection with his appearance before a federal grand jury. She agreed, and they flew to Seattle in a seaplane. When Belden's trip to the men's room in the federal courthouse before his grand jury appearance turned into a disappearing act, Jocelyn hurried to the marina where the seaplane was docked just in time to watch the plane explode with Belden apparently behind the wheel. What follows is an ever-escalating action-drama-mystery-thriller that leads Gideon to Friday Harbor, where he meets Jocelyn, who finds herself in the middle of the U.S. government's effort to stop a nuclear terrorist group from carrying out another Oklahoma City federal building episode. Gideon and Jocelyn become somewhat unwilling participants in the investigation, which results in tragedy. The story line is a departure from Martini's usual courtroom thriller. He is a master of building suspense through the development of a trial, but there is no courtroom action at all in the book. Nevertheless, the story is compelling and intriguing because it plays on other aspects of a lawyer's practice. Jocelyn easily could have avoided her involvement in the activities that led to attempts on her life if she had exercised judgment in the choice of clients. She was moved by emotion to represent the fishermen who were dying from radiation poisoning, and money motivated her to accept Belden as a client. The combination of clients proved almost deadly on several occasions. Martini's writing is wonderfully crisp and easy to read. Sentences are generally short and simple, but the imagery is excellent so that the reader is catapulted into the middle of the action. You can almost feel the heat and concussion from the explosion of Belden's seaplane that singe and knock Jocelyn off her feet and the excruciating pain of the fishermen as they are consumed by radiation-caused cancer. The characters are not as well developed as normal for Martini, and you may have a slight discomfort with Jocelyn because her character does not ring quite true. Perhaps the difficulty is that she is not as multifaceted as most women. Gideon is a little more believable, although his character is slightly thin on development. The character development is sufficient for a movie script but lacks the depth that makes the characters in a novel rich with added emotional and intellectual dimensions. The underdeveloped personalities do not detract from the ever-mounting suspense as Jocelyn and Gideon go about trying to locate a nuclear bomb before it destroys thousands of lives and thrusts the United States into a third world war. You will have to wonder until you finish the book whether the nuclear bombs ever reach critical mass. There is no question, however, that the novel is a page turner and midnight oil burner that causes your interest to exceed critical mass.
Monday, March 1, 1999