Quicksilver, Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens

Pocket, 1999, 728 pages, C$9.99 mmpb, ISBN 0-671-02854-5

Location, location, location. It’s not just a good idea for real-estate investment or the localization of a new business; it’s almost a prerequisite for a really good thriller. Look at that most meanly efficient thriller machine, the action film: DIE HARD wouldn’t be so great if it wasn’t for being set strictly in an office tower. EXECUTIVE DECISION did wonders inside an airliner. And what would SPEED be without a bus?

The list of interesting locations in which to set a thriller has to include the Pentagon, the iconic and practical location of American military power. One of the biggest buildings in the world, the Pentagon’s myth invokes endless military secrets, fantastic security, international relevance and a primo terrorist target.

This is where Quicksilver comes in. Ignore the great teaser about a novel super-weapon having far more destructive effects than predicted: it is, as you may expect, merely a pretext to the real meat of the book, which is a terrorist takeover of the Pentagon.

As you may also expect, the solution to this problem will rest squarely on the shoulders of plucky underdogs; a marine-in-training, an electronic nerd and his aggressive ex-wife. Together they’ll… well, they’ll obviously triumph, but the fun is all in the pudding.

The Reeves-Stevens husband-and-wife writing duo had, after years of undistinguished Star Trek novels, knocked out one solid book with Icefire, one of the best technothrillers of the late nineties. They’re back with Quicksilver, bringing the same creative imagination, limpid narration and uncomplicated characterization to their second technothriller. The result, as you may expect, is another steady fun read in the Clancy genre, with more invention and less useless fat than Clancy’s current work.

The Pentagon is a fantastic setting for a thriller, if only through the discovery of the building. Relatively old (built in the 1950s) by office building standards, the Pentagon is currently being completely renovated (a “Slab-to-Ceiling” work) and the Reeve-Stevens have a lot of fun throwing random construction obstacles in the way of their protagonists. But more than that, it’s the labyrinthine layout, the security measures, the forgotten basement areas, the arcana of the building that engrosses the reader as much as the overall plot of the book. The authors make full use of their setting, as competent thriller writers very well should.

Naturally, the various gadgets used by protagonists and antagonists alike are fun and interesting. The “Looking Glass” gadget in particular promised much, even though it’s taken out of action early on. The central MacGuffin of the book is credible, original and suitably powerful. And as for the identity of the terrorists… well, I haven’t seen anything like it in a long while. Good stuff, supported by plausible research. Hey, shouldn’t the opening diagrams be classified Top-Secret?

Going beyond location and gadgets to the actual plot of the book, well, we can’t ask for much more, from a presidential escape to an impressive apocalyptic finale. Tension is gradually increased, and if you’re not careful you’ll end up reading much more of the book in a single sitting than you’d want to.

In short, technothrillers fans have a lot to look forward to with Quicksilver. While a bit less original than Icefire with the standard building-taken-over-by-terrorist template, it’s a bit more mature (viz the dismissal of the UFO-nut character in Quicksilver versus the jarring references in Icefire) and focused. The edges are polished and the result is a solid, thick read that will amply satisfy countless beach readers.

[September 2001: As with so many other novels, the September 11 terrorist attack on the Pentagon suddenly takes out a lot of fun out of this thriller. “Well”, I blackly reflected in the heat of the events, “there goes the schedule for the slab-to-ceiling renovations.”]

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