Brad Thor’s new novel spins off a concept introduced in his previous title, FOREIGN INFLUENCE: that of a U.S. Army Delta Force field operation team comprised entirely of women. The Athena Project is the code name for the program to train and field such teams, built on the premise that there are basic differences between the genders that can be exploited effectively in an espionage setting. As Thor puts it, there are places where women can go where men are not welcome, and things women can do that men cannot get away with.
Such has been an integral part of the lore of spy craft for decades --- for centuries, actually --- but Thor puts a somewhat different spin on the concept. It would be easy, yet incorrect, to describe this novel as a mashup of James Bond and the film interpretation of “Charlie’s Angels.” This is a more serious concept: a field ops unit wrapped in barbed wire.
THE ATHENA PROJECT focuses on team members Gretchen Casey, Julie Ericsson, Megan Rhodes and Alex Cooper, who are initially tasked with hunting and capturing Nino Bianchi, a soulless Venetian arms dealer. Bianchi supplied the explosives used in a terrorist attack in Rome that killed several Americans, and the team will be holding him accountable for this, utilizing an array of great gadgets that will have weapon techies green with envy.
No sooner does the team complete that mission, though, that they undertake an assignment of even greater importance. A startling discovery in a Paraguayan jungle is traced back to a Nazi research facility that in the closing days of the Second World War came within a hair’s breadth of developing the Kammler Device, a weapon that has the power to quite literally change the present course of civilization, sweeping those against whom it is used into primitive chaos, or worse. The laboratory, buried for decades but not forgotten, has been unearthed at the behest of a mysterious group known as Amalgram, which in turn has enabled a brilliant but deranged scientist to bring the project to its devastating potential.
A secondary plot line involving an attack against a secret facility in the recesses of the Denver International Airport slowly converges with that involving the Athena team, so that two clocks are ticking at once, each with equally deadly consequences not only for the United States but also for the world.
While THE ATHENA PROJECT presents a chilling scenario --- you’ll have to resist the urge to stock up on food, batteries, water and ammunition in the middle of your reading --- the overall tone isn’t quite as dark and/or as grim as Thor’s Scott Harvath novels. That is not to say that the book isn’t loaded with explosions, martial arts, and heart-in-your-throat storylines. It has all three. And make no mistake about it, the team members approach their life-or-death missions with the appropriate gravitas. But some humor, grim and otherwise, is present, and the fact that the plot touches upon the admittedly enigmatic history of the DIA and Nazi weaponry research provides an interesting sidetrack into areas not otherwise explored in the Harvath series. Thor’s fans will want to read THE ATHENA PROJECT immediately, as will those looking to jump onto a new thriller series by an author with a track record for creating riveting and addicting prose on every page he writes.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on October 4, 2011