With an unbroken string of bestsellers dating from the early '70s (beginning with 1971's The Scarlatti Inheritance) and over 200 million books sold, Robert Ludlum is an acknowledged superstar of the political thriller. Gayle Lynds, who was compared to Ludlum after her 1996 debut, Masquerade, has two successful novels and a slew of pseudonymous pulp fiction titles to her credit. Together--after a fashion--they serve up book 1 of Ludlum's new Covert-One series of trade paperback originals, Robert Ludlum's the Hades Factor.
After three disparate Americans succumb to a hitherto unknown Ebola-like virus, the United States Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) is pressed into service. Since the USAMRIID's top doc (and former military intelligence operative) Lt. Col. Jon Smith has yet to return from an overseas conference, the job of heading the medical research team falls to Smith's colleague and fiancée, Dr. Sophia Russell.
Upon Smith's return, he is sequentially treated to a life-or-death warning from a childhood friend (and rogue FBI agent), several nasty near-death experiences, and the viscerally graphic demise of his wife-to-be, an apparent virus victim. Enraged and bereaved, Smith flies into investigatory action only to discover doctored files, expunged records, and the distinct likelihood that he's dealing with cases of murder-by-virus. As more questions are asked, more deaths occur, official channels slam shut, and Smith finds himself a wanted man, battling his best friend, an evil-genius gazillionaire scientist, corrupt politicians, and Third World terrorists. In other words, it's Smith versus all the usual suspects.
Ludlum and Lynds cover no new ground here (and their prose is less than sterling). In fact, The Hades Factor owes as much to Tom Clancy's Op-Center series--cocreated by Clancy and Steve Pieczenik--and Richard Preston's The Hot Zone as it does to Ludlum's own considerable body of work. That said, The Hades Factor still delivers a respectable level of intrigue and suspense, will likely be snapped up by output-starved Ludlum fanciers, and will be right at home on the bed stands of Preston fans. --Michael Hudson