”For the secret of man’s being is not only to live but to have something to live for.” From The Grand Inquisitor part of The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky.
John Angstrom has devoted his life to serving his country. He does the dirty work that the rest of us don’t want to know about. His last assignment went sideways leaving him shattered, and bounced out of his elite unit. He lands a desk job with DARPA, an acronym for Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency, a branch of the Pentagon. His job is to sort through contracts for building the new MAV (Marine Amphibious Vehicle). Most of the contracts are from major defense contractors (friends of DICK Cheney), but the Pentagon is also receiving ideas and concepts from anyone who wants to submit a proposal. The result is a mound of mostly worthless folders, that regardless, have to be sorted, and read through enough to know they can be safely rejected.
The MAV in this story would replace vehicles similar to this one.
One of the submissions is a porn magazine with a CD inserted in the middle. A creative way to submit a proposal, but it could have been easily passed over without a look except that something about the CD grabs Angstrom’s attention. He loads the CD into his computer and pop up windows of naked ladies doing rather interesting things flood his computer. I remember those days when clicking on what seems like an innocuous picture will launch those porn pop-up windows. You click them off and more are launched. As you are fighting this Hydra of sexploitation, of course, that is the very moment that you see your boss is heading your direction for a little howdy time. Angstrom has the same problems, only his computer has been taken over, and something is being downloaded to his computer.
Angstrom isn’t sure, but he thinks he knows what is going on.
”One of those (technology) briefings dealt with what was, at the time considered to be an area of research that was receiving a lot of attention: a method of covert data transmission referred to as ‘Steganography.’ It was a way of secretly embedding an information payload into another file, or carrier, such as in a JPEG image. In essence, a JPEG image could serve as an ‘envelope’ and cary secret, covert information embedded within it, undetectable by the naked eye. A special computer program was needed to process the resulting modified carrier and extract the covert data, or essentially, to open the envelope.”
Russian Porn might lead you to more than you can ever imagine.
Angstrom is able to read enough to know that this is a serious application and he is given instructions on how to retrieve more of the data in a few days.
Meanwhile his ex-wife, recently jilted by a young lover, asks him over for some, reassuring to her self-esteem, no strings attached sex. He feels a little used, but ultimately great sex is...well...pretty great.
At the next meeting of the people who will ultimately decide which proposal will be awarded a contract Angstrom floats a few of the ideas from the Porn delivered file with mixed results. Some find the technology intriguing, but there is one forceful presence in the room that for some reason feels threatened by this new technology. Susan Rand is of the long legged, sexy, universally attractive segment of the population. She is used to working with “boys” and knows what “boys” want. It isn’t her job to be right. It is her job to be convincing. She decides that Angstrom needs some very special convincing. Being an operative, used to manipulating and being manipulated, Angstrom purely from a “research” standpoint wants to find out just how far she is willing to go. It turns out there is no “too far” in Susan Rand’s vocabulary.
On the other side of the world Professor Romanov Czolski, with ample reason to distrust and even despise his government, is setting a trap for someone he should be able to trust. He is the originator of the steganography that Angstrom is wrestling with back in Washington D.C. His goal is to deliver a package to the West and his calling card is the technology that will design the most advanced MAV the world has ever seen.
Things get dicey as enemies on both sides of the globe are closing in on Czolski and Angstrom. A second too late can be detrimental to everything they are trying to accomplish.
The book starts a little slow. Thrillers in recent years have started moving a very pivotal, action scene to the beginning of the book to hook the reader immediately. I like the fact that Paul decided to go a little old school with this book. He has read the classic spy novels. He gets extra points for having one of his characters reading The Miernik Dossier by Charles McCarry. Despite the slow start, soon, you are caught in the flow of the plot, and must find out how Paul Bartusiak is going to resolve the growing impossibility of the East making it to the West.
Paul J. Bartusiak was born and grew up on the South Side of Chicago. He obtained his BSEE from Tennessee Technological University, his MSEE from the University of Texas at Arlington and his Juris Doctor from Chicago-Kent College of Law. He knows the technology.
Be sure and read the 3rd edition with the cover shown on this review. The early editions were not as well edited and if you look through the reviews it was irritating to first readers. It is a tribute to Bartusiak that he spent the money to improve his book.
To those that are intending to publish their own books, please pay the money to have your books professionally edited. There is nothing more frustrating to reviewers than to be distracted by awkward sentences, grammar issues, typos, and wrong dialogue attributed to the wrong character. It can cost you reviewing stars that are lost forever. My good friend Cathy Dupont has helped many writers get their books ship shape for publication. If you don’t know anyone already that can help you, please contact her. Her rates are reasonable, and believe me you will be happier with the results when GR and BL reviewers start reading your book.