Verdict: TERMINAL, John Leifer's page-turning prequel to his book "8 Seconds to Midnight" in the Commander John Hart series proves that more than anything else, it's the power of the story, the plotline, that propels any decent military or government thriller. This one is supercharged and will grab readers by the throat, exhibiting the barely closeted global paranoia of modern times. There is no paranormal or horror story component, but this tale is unequivocally terrifying.
Interesting characters – some straightforward, others shifty – plus horrifying situations and short, navigable chapters make TERMINAL a gripping, lightning-fast read.
Author John Leifer has written articles about the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, shaped by his interaction with governmental agencies, scientists, and noted observers. In addition to national defense, he also writes about health care issues. Those interests are clearly in sync in his John Hart books. TERMINAL is a clever title that describes targets and results in this tale of technologically advanced bioterrorism, religious radicalism and the range of people and personalities in play when a scheme by Islamic extremists to obliterate the West is set in motion. Readers are in for a breathless ride.
Commander John Hart, a physician, Navy SEAL, and CIA operative doesn’t deal in “what ifs.” His universe is about fixing things when the metaphysical horse has already been let out of the barn. Leifer’s characters are extremely intelligent, and as is the case with many thrillers, the bad guys are for the most part more interesting than the good guys.
The first half of TERMINAL is a lot of set-up, as the author shares the trajectory of bio-weapons expert Beibut Valikhanov, of Muslim Kazakh descent, who has developed a highly lethal form of genetically modified, “weaponized” smallpox virus. Feeling underappreciated, Valikhanov steals samples from his government laboratory in West Siberia. Disappointed that a thriving Soviet empire capitulated to a debauched, imperialistic U.S., he is convinced by a callous jihadist leader to join the United Islamic State. The UIS is committed to destroying Western infidels and establishing a holy Caliphate ruled by Sharia law. The weapon of destruction will be Valikhanov’s hemorrhagic variant of smallpox, which has mortality rates over 90%.
Leifer is not a wordsmith. His scenes depicting the harsh effects of this bioweapon are dry and lack a much-needed dose of the dramatic and the grotesque. His ability to draw readers into private conversations and life-or-death decisions and meetings, however, is well done and makes up for his lack of artistic description to get inside his characters. Horrific scenes of infestation lack a certain ruthlessness, which would have made them memorable. The same goes for suspense. Leifer misses a few opportunities regarding the true motives of certain characters, but there is still plenty of edginess left to go around.
TERMINAL sets the stage for further adventures and doesn’t neatly tie up all loose ends, which in this case provides a well-paved entree into Leifer’s second book in the series.
~MG Milbrodt for IndieReader