A Murder of Crows: A Thriller

Steve Shepard, Author
Steve Shepard, Author Lyford Books $23.95 (0p) ISBN 978-0-89141-598-5
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In the new world of post-communist political thrillers, the splintered Evil Empire no longer poses much of a threat, but Shepard nonetheless posits an insidious Russia-inspired premise in his intriguing first novel: a group of disenchanted Russian military officers, in order to regain control of the Kremlin and return their country to glory, organize a plot to persuade the U.S. to reduce drastically its nuclear armaments. Simultaneously, they plan to smuggle hydrogen bombs disguised as industrial boilers into the U.S., with the bombs capable of being set off via signals from a massive radio grid in the middle of Siberia. Their plan proceeds without a hitch until George Duval, a young Nebraska physician, is involved in a motorcycle accident with a truck carrying one of the ""boilers."" Duval takes photos of the injured driver and his dead companion, but when he discovers that the pictures have been damaged by radioactive dust, he begins to suspect a conspiracy. Confirmation comes when he and his girlfriend are mysteriously attacked and nearly everyone he tells about the accident is either murdered or disappears. Meanwhile, in a series of less effective subplots, the FBI begins tracking Duval while ferreting out the details of the conspiracy, with a Russian academic who escapes from a labor camp near the radio grid providing key information. A final confrontation between the U.S. president and the Russians offers an inventive surprise ending. Shepard's background as the chief Pentagon correspondent for ABC News serves him well as he fills in background and local color. Some of the scenes written from the Russian perspective are heavy-handed, but this promising debut features an engaging lead trapped in a doomsday scenario that's both terrifying and believable. (Dec.)
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