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Case’s thriller hits a nerve

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In a post 9/11 world, John Case’s the first horseman seems eerily prescient. Published in 1998, the novel begins with three events: the murder of a couple in upstate New York; the mysterious disappearance of a tiny North Korean village; and an expedition to the Arctic Circle by a team of scientists set on exploring a mystery locked deep in the ice at Kopervik, an abandoned mining town dating to the early 1900s. Frank Daly, a reporter on leave from the Washington Post, misses the boat to Kopervik and sits shivering in small Russian towns waiting for it to return. When it does, the people he was supposed to travel with – including his contact, scientist Annie Adair – are hustled into a waiting car by clean-cut American men in dark heavy topcoats and wingtip shoes, not allowed to say a word to Daly.

Thus begins the weaving of a taut, thrilling tale from the very disparate beginning story threads. Daly works against time and his ability to get information out of the government as he tries to piece together a story he can almost, but not quite, see. He finally convinces a hesitant Adair to join him, and the two combine their knowledge and research skills. As they uncover the plot of the man calling himself “The First Horseman”, the size and complexity of the plot begins to overwhelm them – people fall sick mysteriously in several parts of the country, ordinary citizens refuse to talk to them out of fear, and both of them are attacked. The portrayal of plot’s leader answers the question, “What is a human monster like?”

It’s difficult to write much about the plot without mentioning something that may lessen your tension in reading the book, which would be a shame because Case has done such a nice job. Its weaving of ecoterrorism, rogue states, a government wanting to do right but caught in bureaucracy, and the technical plausibility of an attack on the United States invokes shades of the 9/11 attacks as it highlights our risk and vulnerability. Those living in New York will never look at steam rising in the streets in the same way again. I know I won’t.

And I may not drink Pepsi again either.

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