- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 21, 2007

CHECKMATE

By Karna Small Bodman

Forge, $24.95, 332 pages

REVIEWED BY PETER HANNAFORD

This book makes clear the global nature of radical Islamist terrorism. Some folks on Capitol Hill have not yet learned to connect the dots globally, but most lay readers of this first novel will readily agree that events such as those described could happen here, even though they originated half a world away.

Briefly, an Indian army post in Kashmir is blown up by a cruise missile, one of three stolen from Pakistan’s stockpile. Both sides suspect this to have been the work of a terrorist organization, but there is enough tension and mistrust between them that the Indians aren’t sure whether rogue elements in the Pakistan military are really the responsible parties.

The president of the United States has appointed a former senator to be a Special Envoy to the two countries to attempt to work out a new treaty between them. First an advance team is to be dispatched, to New Delhi and then to Islamabad, to pave the way for the Special Envoy.

Meanwhile, Dr. Cameron Talbot, a brilliant computer scientist, is experiencing frustration in efforts to bring to a field test her new program, Q-3, intended to lock on to the guidance system of a cruise missile and turn it around from its intended target. Her company’s chief finance officer thinks her project is pie-in-the-sky and is breathing down her neck, urging her to to show it works.

Her boss, a retired general who has known her since she was a child, arranges for her to testify before a congressional committee about the project. Some key members are interested, but they’re torn between helping it with funding or giving the money to a rival contractor for other projects.

The plot moves along at a fast pace. “Cammy” meets Col. Hunt Daniels, assistant to the president for arms control and strategic defense. He is intrigued with her project. Their personal involvement develops gradually, but the reader sees it coming.

There is much nail-biting over the possible targets of the other two stolen cruise missiles. A member of the radical Islamist group that stole them is dispatched to the United States to attempt to steal or thwart the development of Q-3 and, failing that, to dispose of Dr. Talbot.

The author, Karna Small Bodman, is no novice when it comes to understanding Washington. Local readers will nod in agreement as she shows its social and political conventions and conceits at work, from Congress to K Street to Kalorama drawing rooms. Those not familiar with these precincts will find her insights fascinating

There are more twists to the plot of this novel than there are in a loaf of Monkey Bread. To reveal them deprive you of the pleasure of enjoying every page of this thriller. All the elements begin to converge toward a two-step climax. One takes place at the headquarters of Dr. Talbot’s company, Bandaq, in the Maryland suburbs. The other takes place in India.

A device that keeps the pace of the book moving smartly is the division of the story into scenes, each represented by a chapter. Some of these are two pages long, others six or seven. As the action shifts from one set of characters to another or from the main plot to one of several subplots, this device makes it easy to keep them all straight.

The author began her career in San Francisco as a television reporter. Later, she anchored a news program there, then one in Washington, D.C. After Ronald Reagan’s election she was named deputy press secretary in the White House.

Later, she became the spokeswoman for the National Security Council. She accompanied negotiating teams to several arms control conferences. A polished writer, she brings her skills to this task with verve and enthusiasm.

Peter Hannaford is co-author of “Remembering Reagan.”

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