cover image Zero Option

Zero Option

Peter T. Deutermann. St. Martin's Press, $25.95 (384pp) ISBN 978-0-312-19210-5

Deutermann's latest (after Sweepers) is a topnotch topical thriller bursting with the expected expertise and insider knowledge he picked up as a Navy captain and arms control specialist. It's also something else: an unexpectedly resonant portrait of people, good and bad, who have been chewed up and spit out by military and government bureaucracies. Both the hero (an unlucky military investigator named David Stafford, whose career has been short-circuited by whistle-blowing and whose personal life is a disaster), and the heavy (bumbling Army bean-counter and petty thief Wendell Carson) are carefully drawn and fully credible. So are the underlings, officers and FBI agents who thread through their lives. This becomes especially important when Stafford--trying to track down a container of a deadly biological nerve gas that Carson has stolen from an Army base in Georgia--crosses paths with a young girl who seems to have psychic powers. In less skilled hands, this rogue element could send the vehicle skittering. But Deutermann quickly gives the girl and her keepers (a mysteriously intriguing woman teacher, a protective small-town policewoman) such a strong presence that they become vital to the story's exciting, moving conclusion. Author tour. Agent, Nicholas Ellison; editor, George Witte. (Sept.) FYI: A mass market edition of Sweepers is being issued simultaneously.