The late Robert Ludlum was an acknowledged master of the espionage
novel. When the Cold War ended, there were many who felt that
Ludlum's run had come to an end, that there would be no more bad
guys to battle for world domination. Ludlum, of course, proved them
dramatically wrong; in addition to an extended run of excellent,
post-Cold War novels, he also initiated the Covert-One series about
a shadowy, off-the-books US Agency accountable only to the
President and held in reserve to battle only the most extreme
situations threatening the United States.
THE CASSANDRA COMPACT is the second novel in the Covert-One series
and it maintains the standard established by the inaugural volume,
THE HADES FACTOR. THE CASSANDRA COMPACT opens with Jon Smith, a
Covert-One operative, assigned to bring in Yuri Danko. Danko, a
deep-cover Covert-One operative, has made an urgent plea for
extraction. Smith makes contact with Danko but is only able to
speak with him for a few moments before Danko is gunned down by
assassins --- leaving Smith with no idea as to what prompted
Danko's request or resulted in his death.
Smith and Covert-One soon learn that Danko uncovered a plot to
steal one of the world's two remaining samples of the smallpox
virus from its safeguarded holding in Russia. The people behind the
theft do not have benevolent research in mind. They want to mutate
the smallpox virus into a fast acting, effective, and lethal
biological weapon. And these are not your garden variety
terrorists, either --- they have ties to the highest levels of the
US Government and are using the nation's space program to further
their goals. Smith and other Covert-One operatives --- who are, for
the most part, unaware of each other's identities --- are in a race
against time to trace the path of the virus samples and to prevent
the experiments from bearing fruit.
There are those who say that the next war will not be fought with
bullets, but with microbes. Given recent world events, Ludlum and
Shelby's plot begins to look like a plausible scenario.
Notwithstanding the fall of the Soviet Union, it has become obvious
that a plethora of dangers, both within and without the country,
still exist. Although Ludlum is regrettably no longer with us, his
ideas and his books will live on.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 21, 2011