cover image THE ALTMAN CODE


Robert Ludlum, Gayle Lynds, . . St. Martin's/Griffin, $15.95 (448pp) ISBN 978-0-312-28990-4

This latest product from the efficient assembly line of the Ludlum thriller factory has been somewhat overtaken by events: it revolves around a Chinese freighter carrying weapons-grade chemicals to the port of Basra in Saddam Hussein's Iraq. There are also a couple of neat subplots, including an elderly American being held prisoner in China who claims to be the real father of U.S. President Sam Adams Castilla, and the dirty doings of a giant international business combine called the Altman Group, whose members make Ian Fleming's old adversaries look like the operatives of a corner candy store. All of this provides plenty of action and intrigue for the folks at Covert-One, the top-secret agency which now operates out of a private yacht club in Anacostia, Md.—close enough to the White House for President Castilla to drop in on agency boss Fred Klein of an evening with just one Lincoln Town Car full of Secret Service folk. Most of the heavy lifting, actionwise, falls on the capable shoulders of Covert-One's Col. Jon Smith, who as "a medical doctor and biomolecular scientist" as well as an army officer is the ideal combination of brains and muscle. He needs both, as well as the patience to endure dialogue like this from Castilla: "I don't know whether you realize it, but China is one of the signatories of the international agreement that prohibits development, production, stockpiling, or use of chemical weapons. They won't let themselves be revealed as breaking that treaty, because it could slow their march to acquiring a bigger and bigger slice of the global economy." Exactly. (June 17)