Spy-fiction master Freemantle, the creator of British MI6 operative Charlie Muffin (most recently spotted in Kings of Many Castles, Forecasts, Nov. 1), takes a refreshing hiatus from the genre with this expert thriller, in which a mysterious doomsday malady threatens to wipe out the human race. American climatologist Jack Stoddart, infamous for his warnings of an impending global warming disaster, heads a rescue team answering an SOS from a group of four scientists at a remote Antarctic research station, only to find them all dead by the time he arrives, felled by a mysterious syndrome causing rapid aging. When all the other members of his rescue team die in the same way, and simultaneous outbreaks are reported above the Arctic Circle in Alaska and Siberia, Stoddart is appointed head of a multinational investigative team headquartered near Washington. His work, already difficult, is further obstructed by the political sparring of a Napoleonic American president; the sexual tactics of a British diplomat scheming to oust his prime minister; a demented Russian virologist who had previously lost her bid for a Nobel Prize to the Americans; and a cast of minor bureaucrats. As these power mongers play their perilous game of chicken, the extinction of the human species is at stake. When a prehistoric colony that died of the same ailment is found in a Siberian cave near Lake Baikal, the stage is set for a taut denouement, and the tension doesn't let up till the final chilling page. (Nov.)
Forecast:Displaying this novel alongside Kings of Many Castles, which is being published nearly simultaneously by St. Martin's, may help sales of both titles.