Lethal Exposure, Kevin J. Anderson & Doug Beason

Ace, 1998, 290 pages, C$7.99 mmpb, ISBN 0-441-00536-5

One can say a lot of not-so-complimentary things about Kevin J. Anderson. He’s one of the bestselling SF authors of the nineties, but -most will hasten to add-, he’s done so on the shoulders of some pretty powerful institutions: Anderson wrote or co-wrote at least a dozen novels in the Star Wars and X-Files universe… Lately, he’s been shamelessly exploiting the church of Scientology by writing a novel in “collaboration” with the late L. Ron Hubbard. A prolific writer, Anderson also has time for a substantial body of more original work.

He collects collaborators like others collect cars and the quality of the work often has a direct link with the other writer. With Doug Beason, Anderson writes very-hard-science techno-thrillers, from DIE-HARD clone (the rather good Ignition) to post-apocalyptic drama (Ill Wind) to, finally, a series of novel starring Craig Kriedent, high-tech FBI agent.

The formula is simple: Imagine a FBI agent specialized in high-tech crimes. Give him two competent sidekicks, one ex-squeeze and an ambiguous girlfriend. Make them resolve murders in high-tech locations. Pack in as many scientific details as the average hard-SF fan will tolerate. Add some more action, near-future technology and write up everything in a limpid style that’s impossible to resist.

I wasn’t too fond of the first Kriedent novel (Virtual Destruction), mostly for the usage of gratuitous pathos and less-clever-than-they-thought plotting. The second book (Fallout) was closer to techno-thriller than to crime fiction, and had the benefit of better action scenes as well as a very memorable finale. Lethal Exposure tops both by combining the best elements of the first two books.

In the opening pages of Lethal Exposure, a scientist working after-hours at Chicago’s Fermilab particle accelerator is exposed to a lethal dose of radiation. He calmly diagnoses himself as a living corpse and turns himself in. His physician is Trish LeCroix, Craig Kriedent’s ex-girlfriend. She calls him up, convinced that it was no accident. Kriedent quickly arrives on the scene, and then the action really starts.

This time around, the mystery elements are combined with action sequences to produce a mystery/thriller hybrid. Since we’re comfortable with the main characters, the authors are allowed to spend some time developing secondary players and allowing their protagonists to react more naturally. Technically, Lethal Exposure is better-paced than its predecessors, balancing the action with just enough mystery. The ending is surprisingly emotional, though one loose end is still dangling by the end of the novel.

Inevitably, some will feel disappointed at some of the shortcuts taken by the authors. The romantic triangle is given scant attention and the murder attempts are as unbelievable as a direct Chicago-New Delhi Concord flight. (Refuelling? Continental United States supersonic overflight? Demand? Facilities?)

But no matter; for an open-ended series novel, Lethal Exposure is a darn good read. It’s the best of the Kriedent so far, and the last pages give plenty of openings for a series of sequels. Of course, it remains to be seen if Beason and Anderson want to continue, (contrarily to the previous two books, there is no mention of a follow-up book) but if they can keep the same level of quality than with Lethal Exposure, fans are sure to follow.

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