ROBERT LUDLUM'S THE CASSANDRA COMPACT
Ludlum continues to imitate his imitators in his second Covert-One biotech thriller (after The Hades Factor), this time with coauthor Shelby (Days of Drums, etc.). Medical researcher and sometime spy Lt. Col. Jonathan Smith—aided by CIA agent Randi Russell, British operative Peter Howell and ultrasecret spymaster Nathaniel Klein—faces another villainous plot to unleash a deadly disease on an unsuspecting populace. Retired from the Army Medical Research Unit for Infectious Diseases after the death of his fiancée, Smith heads to Venice to meet a Russian scientist who is killed by Sicilian mercenaries before he can warn Smith that a sample of smallpox is about to be stolen from a Russian bioresearch facility. Up against a global military-corporate conspiracy with moles at NASA, the Pentagon and the KGB, Smith follows the smallpox across the Atlantic to Houston Mission Control and beyond. The cinematic chase through changing landscapes and mounting body count gives the book its rapid pace, while insider politics, tradecraft and technical wizardry lend an extra kick. Boilerplate dialogue ("The hit came down as arranged. But there was an unexpected development. I'm expecting an update shortly") and movie logic (after ordering the space shuttle to land in Nevada with the most virulent smallpox strain ever and several dead astronauts aboard, the president hops Air Force One to go meet it) show Ludlum may leverage his brand name, but no longer delivers the complex situations that earned him his reputation as a premier writer of international intrigue. National advertising. (May 15)
Forecast:Ludlum died just last month, and word is he left a few books in the works. It's been a while since he was in top form, but some readers are bound to overlook the telltale "Robert Ludlum's" in the title.