THE OUTLAWS, W. E. B. Griffin’s latest novel in his Presidential Agent series, carries the activities of retired U.S. Army Colonel Charley Castillo through his on-and-off-again contacts with cabinet members of the current U.S. President, Joshua Clendennen. Castillo, formerly in command of the Office of Operational Analysis and authorized by the President’s now-deceased predecessor, has quietly “disappeared from the face of the earth,” as directed by his commander-in-chief. His group has dispersed as well, but he’s always fully aware of their whereabouts. Castillo remains cloistered at his ranch in Argentina, along with his female companion, former Russian agent Colonel Svetlana Alekseeva.
Two incidents occur that draw Castillo back into the radar scope of the present U.S. government. A large package is sent to the U.S. biohazard laboratory, from Florida to Fort Detrick, Maryland, to Colonel Hamilton, chief analytical officer for biohazardous material. He earlier identified material seized by Castillo’s group from a raid on a so-called “fish farm” and labeled the agent as Congo-X. The operation had been a clandestine affair, the entire amount of Congo-X thought to have been destroyed. Now it’s believed that the Russians have made a statement to the U.S. with this package.
Nearly at the same time, a beer barrel container has been located just across the U.S.-Mexican border, labeled identical to the shipment received in Maryland. A simultaneous mail delivery from the Russian Embassy reveals a request from Vladimir Putin. Two Russian SVR agents, Svetlana and her brother, are believed to be in company with Castillo, who reportedly had kidnapped them before they could defect to a disgruntled U.S. under-secretary. Putin now wants his agents returned, to be decorated in their homeland. The lethal Congo-X containers look to be bargaining tools. Incidentally, Putin would like Castillo delivered to him as well.
President Clendennen, miffed by the lack of advisement by his predecessor, is all too willing to give up the two Russians and Castillo. The only problem is, they cannot be found. Clendennen sends Ambassador Montvale, a man he considers far beneath himself in intelligence, to locate the retired officer. Meanwhile, two American journalists lust after the big headline they believe will give them notoriety. Getting wind of the activity at Fort Detrick, Roscoe Danton becomes curious and digs further. When he’s contacted by Eleanor Dillworth, who had been demoted after the Russian defector affair, he heads south to ferret out the truth. It appears as if Castillo has an entire army looking for him.
Griffin and William E. Butterworth IV have cranked out another speedy addition to the Presidential Agent series. Keeping their readers satisfied and hungry for more, they have delivered yet again. For those of us who have kept up with the Charley Castillo adventures, the number of pages devoted to backstory is laborious. But, in fairness to new Griffin/Butterworth devotees, the table needed to be set for the delicious dinner of espionage. The usual large number of personalities involved --- from the White House to the Cabinet, to CIA, FBI and ambassadorial underlings --- though cumbersome, does acquaint the reader with sufficient knowledge to follow the action.
Extensive research in the field of aviation is a trademark of the authors. Castillo can pilot aircraft ranging from a Gulfstream jet to a Blackhawk helicopter to a gigantic Russian super-liner. The proper strategies can be located to land all of the above aircraft, the means to which are cleverly introduced into the story.
Congo-X is a lethal biohazard agent, resistant to destruction by means yet discovered. Hamilton’s role in THE OUTLAWS becomes of urgent importance the deeper into the story we read. If the deadly agent can be destroyed, future risks may be curtailed. However, the retired Castillo may have to re-emerge to determine that no more Congo-X exists.
The action crosses the globe --- from Budapest to Washington, Mexico, Venezuela and Argentina. Castillo makes his presence known in all locations, and his well-connected personal history becomes an important factor throughout the book. What can possibly come next for a retired ex-officer who has been ordered by his President to “disappear to the ends of the earth?”
Reviewed by Judy Gigstad on March 28, 2011