cover image The Devil's Workshop

The Devil's Workshop

Stephen J. Cannell. William Morrow & Company, $25 (421pp) ISBN 978-0-688-16618-2

The Emmy Award-winning TV writer/producer of The Rockford Files and The Commish strikes again (after Riding the Snake) with this quirky new action-driven nail-biter, which imagines the havoc unleashed by doomsday bioweapons. Doctoral candidate Stacy Richardson is called out of her oral finals to be told that her husband, the brilliant microbiology department chairman at USC, has killed himself while on sabbatical at a hush-hush Pentagon-funded bioweapons research center just outside Washington. Devastated, she flies east to accuse the military hierarchy of murdering her husband in an attempt to cover up a covert research project involving deadly Pale Horse Prion, a bioweapon that can be genetically engineered to kill specific ethnic groups. Back home in L.A., her husband's final e-mail reveals that the military is planning a test at a deserted prison town in Texas. Traveling incognito, Stacy arrives just in time to witness the catastrophic destruction of the quiet town as the military desperately tries to eliminate the mosquitoes carrying the deadly Prion. In the wake of the disaster, Fannon Kincaid, a zealot hobo preacher intent on fulfilling the Armageddon prophesy of Revelations, kidnaps renegade scientist Dexter DeMille, who has the Prion. In her effort to save the world, Stacy hooks up with Cris Cunningham, a former Desert Storm hero, and Buddy Brazil, the movie mogul dad of one of Prion's victims. Unfolding as a cross-country train chase in and out of hobo jungles, the shoot-'em-up finale comes thundering down in the railroad yards in Washington. Unfortunately, the schmaltzy fade to black is excessive and lacking in taste. Typically, Cannell is strong on action and plot, and weak on feelings, sensitivity and depth of character. Agents, Eric Simonoff and Mort Janklow. Major ad/promo, 12-city author tour. (Sept.)