SHOCK WARNING by Michael Walsh reads as if it should come shrink-wrapped with a seatbelt and airbag. It begins with a veiled threat, proceeds with a biological attack, and continues with a plot that weaves, dips and swirls its way through politics, religion, economics and warfare, all without pausing for breath.
"If you’re in need of a high-powered jolt of literary caffeine, you need look no further than SHOCK WARNING."
This is the third installment in the Devlin series, which began with HOSTILE INTENT and continued with EARLY WARNING. SHOCK WARNING picks up and, in some cases, resolves plot threads that were left dangling at the conclusion of the previous novel. While complete in and of itself (there is enough action here to fill three books, with goodies left over), your enjoyment of it will be increased if you’re familiar with what went before.
Devlin is a highly skilled operative of a secret and shadowy wing of the NSA. He, in turn, is answerable to his stepfather, a man with whom he has an extremely complicated relationship. Both of them are on the speed dial of President John Tyler, whose courage more often than not comes poured out of a bottle when it comes at all. Forces are coming together, aimed at beginning what will be the ultimate war, which will put the world --- and humanity --- back to Square One. At first, a telephone call to Manhattan’s Mount Sinai Medical Center seems to be a wrong number, but is actually the latest in a series of steps orchestrated, once again, against New York City.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the United States, two occurrences foreshadow a grim and frightening future. Cattle are dropping over dead for no apparent reason, seemingly the victims of an unknown virus. That conclusion, we soon learn, is incorrect; the reason is far more heinous. The Blessed Virgin is manifesting herself in the sky to the faithful and non-believers alike, telling each and all to repent. Even as this occurs, though, Mohammed is also appearing in the skies in the Middle East and in volatile Africa, where followers of the Christian and Islamic faiths are inspired to enact bloody and violent action against each other. And Iran is about to launch a series of nuclear strikes against Israel, despite warnings that Israel will counterattack and that the United States will regard action against Israel as an attack against itself.
All of these activities --- some seemingly related, others less so --- are being orchestrated by one man who hopes to bring down humanity in one fell swoop in order to reconstitute it according to his own vision. Devlin, however, has ideas of his own, as does the intrepid Danny Impellatieri, a hot-stick helicopter pilot who has figured prominently in the first two volumes and who literally pulls the fat out of the fire in this novel. But to do what they have to do, they need the help of one man who has the ability to direct the might and majesty of the United States effectively against its greatest enemies, if he only possesses the force of will to do so. Will he or won’t he?
SHOCK WARNING resolves many of the issues raised in HOSTILE INTENT and EARLY WARNING. Having said that, Walsh has indicated that there are at least two more Devlin novels in the works, and his latest leaves enough questions unanswered at its end to provide plenty of grist for future titles. And one word of warning: Don’t become too emotionally involved with any of the characters, as not all of them remain whole, intact or standing by book’s end. If you’re in need of a high-powered jolt of literary caffeine, you need look no further than SHOCK WARNING.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on November 10, 2011