cover image Black Cross

Black Cross

Greg Iles. Dutton Books, $19.95 (528pp) ISBN 978-0-525-93829-3

Henceforth, any recommended reading list of thrillers about commando raids behind enemy lines will have to include this second novel by Iles (Spandau Phoenix), who has come up with an action-packed yet thoughtful yarn about a mission to stop the Nazi development of two new poison gases, Sarin and Somin, in a small concentration camp. Mark McConnell, a pacifist American doctor and poison-gas researcher, and Jonas Stern, a Zionist assassin, are chosen by the British to attack the camp. They are instructed to kill all its occupants (including the inmates) by unleashing Britain's own meager supply of Sarin, and to return with information about the manufacture of the gases. The story of McConnell and Stern's training and raid alternates with that of several people interned in the camp, among them Stern's father. The two strands come together in a swift and moving story about mercy, sacrifice and the horrors of war. The mission's purpose is problematic: Would Britain's use of Sarin to kill everyone at the camp really have convinced Himmler to discontinue further research and to persuade Hitler never to use poison gas for fear of Allied retaliation? But Iles builds suspense around the mission itself, not its aftermath, and winds up with an unusually resonant, gripping thriller that's a strong bet for bestsellerdom. Literary Guild alternate; audio rights to Penguin HighBridge; author tour. (Jan.)