- - Friday, May 25, 2012

By Karna Small Bodman
Headline Books, $24.95 320 pages

Karna Small Bodman is now on her third career. First, she was a television reporter, anchor and commentator in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Washington and New York. Then, she was a deputy press secretary and later a senior director on the National Security Council staff in the Reagan White House. Now she is an author. “Castle Bravo” is her fourth Washington-based thriller and, like its predecessors, it is a page-turner. (The others are “Final Finesse,” “Gambit” and “Checkmate.”)

Readers of her other books will recognize Samantha Reid, assistant to the president for homeland security, and Tripp Adams, vice president of an oil and gas company. Also, Dr. Cameron Talbot, a curvaceous and brainy missile defense expert, and Hunt Daniels, special assistant to the president for nuclear and proliferation issues.

All of the author’s books deal with threats to the nation’s security that actually could happen in real life. Thus, her underlying message is that we must be prepared for such eventualities. Her characters make the threats vivid and plausible.

Amidst the many threats with which Samantha Reid is confronted are rumors about something called EMP, for “electro-magnetic pulse,” whereby a small nuclear device is exploded at a high elevation. It creates no radiation on the ground, but sends a powerful pulse to the field below that knocks out all electrical/electronic activity - with the emphasis on “all.”

We soon learn of an accidental test use of EMP in far-off Kazakhstan. Involved are two young college students with grievances. One, whose grandfather was an American sailor and grandmother a native of a South Seas island, has been protesting the U.S. government’s failure to keep its promises to victims of the Bikini hydrogen bomb tests of the late 1940s.

The other, a Kazakh, supports the annual demonstrations calling for reparations for victims of the many nuclear tests conducted in his country before the USSR collapsed. They go to Kazakhstan to work in or near a clandestine government-run nuclear device program. Things soon get out of hand. The device is launched and accidentally lets loose the EMP, wreaking havoc on the communities below it.

Food supplies run out. Banks can’t operate. Transport doesn’t work. Water isn’t pumped. Society breaks down. Gangs of marauders roam the streets. The young Kazakh, who worked on computers at the nuclear facility, goes back there and is recruited for a deadly mission concocted by the country’s megalomaniacal president. The young American, with the friend’s sister, escapes in a perilous overland journey.

The author alternates the action between Washington and Kazakhstan as the suspense builds and it becomes apparent that the United States is a target for an EMP detonation. To say more would be to say too much. The author’s characters are well drawn and believable. Her knowledge of security issues tells the reader she knows what she is talking about. And, she has saved some reader surprises for the end.

• Peter Hannaford’s latest book is “Reagan’s Roots: The People and Places That Shaped His Character” (Images From The Past).

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