- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 10, 2008


By Karna Small Bodman

Forge Books, $25.95, 304 pages


Scarcely a year after she debuted as a writer of Washington thrillers with “Checkmate,” Karna Small Bodman is back with a sequel, “Gambit,” that is every bit as much a nail-biter.

In the first book a brilliant young scientist, Dr. Cameron (“Cammy”) Talbot, Senior Project Director of Bandaq Technologies, thwarted a terrorist attempt to destroy the seat of the Indian government with a stolen cruise missile. She did it by using radar to unlock the sequence of the missile”s guidance system so the weapon could be turned around in mid-flight.

In the course of that adventure she fell in love with Lt. Col. Hunt Daniels who inexplicably left one day without leaving so much as a note for her. Where he went and why is cleared up in “Gambit.”

Cammy, as a young girl, lost her father an Air Force jet pilot, in an accident. She also became intrigued by then-President Ronald Reagan”s Strategic Defense Initiative. She wanted to grow up to be a scientist who would be devoted to protecting the nation. She ended up at Bandaq (whimsically named for a banana daiquiri) where she fought for out-of-the-box technologies.

The threat in “Gambit” is a mystery. Commercial airliners are falling from the sky shortly after take-off. Authorities conclude that it is missiles bringing the aircraft down, but in all of the cases there was no evidence on control tower radar. Why were they undetectable? Who fired them?

The president asks Vice President Jayson Keller to head a special task force to find the answers.

Meanwhile, commercial air travel grinds to a near-halt. The stock market heads south. The news media clamor for answers and an ambitious senator, who hopes to face Keller in the next election, calls for hearings to try to pin blame on someone.

Cammy Talbot, the heroine of the cruise missile crisis, is called in as a consultant to the vice president”s team. Col. Daniels, we learn, is called back to Washington to be on the team as Special Assistant to the President for Arms Control and Strategic Defense.

The vice president, a recent widower, finds Dr. Cameron attractive, and vice versa. Cammy, meanwhile, is coolly correct to Daniels who has yet to explain his absence. That is all we can tell you about the love interest.

None of the defense contractors working on means of combatting shoulder-fired missiles aimed at commercial aircraft is anywhere near production. It falls to Cammy and her colleagues to figure out how the missiles are hitting the plans without detection and how to stop them.

One Bandaq rival, Sterling Dynamics, has been working on an airport protection system, but it has failed in its tests by its first client, the government of Taiwan. A Sterling system also figured in the fatal crash of Cammy”s father, so she has an added reason to be the one to solve the mystery missile problem.

She designs a unit to do the job, but it must be tested and there is little time. An Air Force fighter at Travis Air Force Base is outfitted with it. The book’s climax involves an unexpected test of the system and the identity and purpose of the missile perpetrators. You will not turn out the lights until you have read through to the last page.

Karna Small Bodman, a senior director at the National Security Council, was one of the highest ranking women in the Reagan White House. Her knowledge of technical aspects of missiles is impressive and gives her the ability to make her plots plausible. The possibility of terrorists firing missiles at commercial aircraft taking off or landing is real. Let us hope a real Cammy Talbot comes up with an effective defense against them before the horrors that occur in “Gambit” actually take place.

Peter Hannaford is a member of the Committee on the Present Danger.

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