Cobb's latest Covert-One novel comes to us under the Ludlum rubric, consistent with the endlessly high pace, supercharged energy and international intrigue characteristic of the franchise. While the concept of the plot might stretch credulity, it doesn't go too far for the inveterate action thriller fan and has the great virtue of high craft in the writing -- well up to the standards of Eric Van Lustbader who wrote the preceding two Ludlum sagas.
Wednesday Island, a remote, hostile place a short distance from the Earth's magnetic pole, is an excellent challenge for an intrepid climbing team. When a member of just such a group spots a strange sight -- a plane on a glacier! -- the adventure becomes more than a recreational outing.
Word goes out under official secrecy and the craft is identified as a World War II era Soviet strategic bomber -- a discovery that has all the potentials of a diplomatic cataclysm. The Russians, currently engaged in an anti-terrorism pact with president Samuel Castilla and the U.S. government, reveal that the long-lost Tupolev Tu-4 heavy bomber, called the Misha 124, is a strategic biological weapons platform loaded with weaponized Anthrax. The plane and its cargo were lost 50 years ago -- an admission forced on its manufacturers by the untimely and hugely embarrassing sighting. Worst of all, the deadly bacterial agent must be presumed viable.
Spicing up the operation are two gorgeous military-trained women, presumably to provide the sexual tension dimension in the rigourous reaches of human habitability. Not so credible when you consider the physical demands, but there are demands and then there's fiction. The choice brings in a dynamic that has its allure for men of the species and satisfaction for the feminist wing of the action demographic. Call it a win-win.
The fourth member is Russian liaison officer Major Gregori Smyslov of the Federation Air force, required by the Soviets to satisfy political demands. The major will ostensibly "aid and observe the team efforts," officially. But his true task is to blunt the American effort and to facilitate the secret task force the Russians are sending out to "protect" the evidence. As for the good major himself, he's more than a straight spy-automaton from the KGB, but a rather conflicted man with independent judgement. His wavering calculations between duty and decency generates a key vibe for Smith to assess. The question of Smyslov's true values won't be answered until the confrontations begin.
With precision staging, author Cobb's mission is to convince us of his depth of knowledge about military culture, methodology, weaponry and the extremes of human savagery and survival -- and he doesn't let his readers down. His detailing of escape and evasion in the Arctic environment is tense and gripping -- a lively demonstration of story structure and dramatic skill on the Ludlum scale of international intrigue.