BOOK BEAT Naples Sun Times February 6, 2008
by Philip K. Jason
With her second novel, “Gambit,” Karna Small Bodman has established herself as one of the premier crafters of political thrillers. Drawing upon her own experience as a high-ranking media and security official in the Reagan White House, Bodman can make her handling of government decision-making, the Capitol Beltway environment, and international politics ring true. Her attractive heroine, a scientist who is both personally and professionally dedicated to national defense, wrestles once again with technological solutions to major threats to world peace. And, as in her first appearance in “Checkmate,” Cammy Talbot’s heart is tested on more than one level.
Why are jetliners falling out of the sky? An unknown enemy has found a way to bring down commercial aircraft while leaving hardly a trace of how it was done and how the destructive weaponry remained undetected. With the U. S. government seemingly incapable of dealing with this threat, the transportation industry is grinding to a standstill and the stock market is plummeting. Chaos is on the horizon. Who is behind these atrocities, and with what motive? These are the questions that need to be unraveled as quickly as possible.
Talbot, whose inventive genius on missile defense systems had saved the world from possible catastrophe several months earlier, is once again placed on center stage in this new dilemma. While working with a Boston-based Chinese colleague on a new missile defense concept, Cammie Talbot learns of activities on mainland China that suggest the development of stealth missile systems with new guidance technologies. When Talbot leaves her friend’s university lab to grab a cup of coffee at a nearby Starbucks, the Chinese scientist and his lab are destroyed by an explosion.
As the plot unfolds, we meet high-ranking government officials in furious panic, leaders of rival R & D firms vying for government contracts, and, though kept in the shadows, the perpetrators themselves. Panic accelerates when a plane taking off from Dulles Airport explodes, ending the life of Austin Gage, the National Security Advisor to the President. These doomed planes can no longer be considered random targets.
When Vice President Jayson Keller takes over Gage’s duties, new complications arise. Keller and Talbot are now working together on the accelerating security nightmare, and it is clear that he is interested in her. Talbot is hesitant, still nursing a sense of abandonment and betrayal in the wake of her aborted romance with Colonel Hunt Daniels, the White House Arms Control and Strategic Defense aide. When Daniels, who has been on secret assignments, comes back into the picture, Talbot is torn between her passion for him, the genuine appeal of Jayson Keller, and her unwillingness to get hurt once again. These workplace romances are hell, especially in the corridors of power.
As Talbot moves towards testing her new missile detection and defense concepts, it becomes quite clear that her centrality to thwarting the attacks on U. S. aircraft is known to the enemy. She becomes a target. Now it is her heart’s courage that is tested.
Cammy Talbot’s romantic and research concerns are neatly counterpointed through her friendship with Melanie Duvall, who heads corporate communications at Bandaq Technologies where Talbot works. Duvall, herself entangled with a dashing, spotlight-stealing senator, serves as a kind of confidante, yet she is an attractive character in her own right – a breezier and less guarded counterpart to Talbot.
The author moves us sure-handedly through a range of locals – not only the D. C. area, but San Francisco, Travis Air Force Base, remote sections of China, Brasilia, and Taipei. We hear of Chinese military exercises in the Taiwan Strait. We hear of alliances with Japan and assistance from India in the face of the looming threat. The pace quickens, and the pulse of expectation thunders louder and louder.
Karna Small Bodman has another winner in “Gambit,” just released by Forge Books. She will be signing her new title on April 5 and 6 at the Naples Press Club’s Authors and Books Festival, which is being held at the von Liebig Art Center.
Philip K. Jason, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus of English from the United States Naval Academy. A poet, critic, and free-lance writer with twenty books to his credit, this “Dr. Phil” chairs the annual Naples Writers’ Conference presented by the Naples Press Club. Send him your book news at firstname.lastname@example.org.