Thursday, October 19, 2017

Book Review: 'The Thorium Stratagem' by Kent Hinckley

Stanford University graduate California author Kent Hinckley brought a rich background to his debut novel HEARTS, MINDS AND COFFEE - a novel with a completely different view of the Vietnam War. He served in Army Intelligence in Vietnam, worked for Bank of America international finance in Taipei and Tokyo, worked in the real estate industry for over twenty years emphasizing green technologies, and now lives in San Diego, California. And just as his experience in Army Intelligence gave credibility to that first novel, those credentials accompany his experience in international finance that help make his second novel -THE THORIUM STRATAGEM – credible. He continues to grow as an author.

A lover of espionage thrillers Kent state on his website that his novels (and a play) have three primary themes: First, the hero is an ordinary person who gets thrust into perilous situations, Second, the hero speaks at least two languages, Third, enemies work together. ‘The stories show how an everyday person — not a superagent or trained assassin — can rise to the challenge no matter how daunting.’ Kent enjoys history and likes to include it in his stories.

Kent is a thoughtful writer who is concerned that his reading audience is guided through strange names and ideas with comfort that sets a tone for becoming involved in the story itself. Before the story begins he offers the cast of characters with some background on each to help us step into the maze of the novel.

Once the novel begins Kent quietly but surely plants seeds that will lead to the story at hand, His opening paragraphs offer – ‘No one noticed the shiny black dot on the lapel of Viktor Smirnoff’s coat as he strolled inside the compound’s eight-foot walls. He wandered along a dirt path that connected three gray buildings. Cameras were so easy to hide. He had visited the research lab twice on assignment for the Federal Security Service known as the FSB. It previously served as part of the KGB and was restructured in 1991 by Boris Yeltsin. Regardless of its name, the organization allowed Viktor to kill, but today he worked for a new employer, and he didn’t have to kill anyone. The facility must have made a monumental discovery for the CIA to pay him two million dollars for some photos. Viktor knew that by completing this task, he would add fuel to the contentious relations between the United States and Russia. If either country acted on what he was doing, national pride would dictate more than the invective now filling the print media and airwaves. He didn’t know that five scientists had discovered a new process using the element thorium, a discovery that had the potential to alter the energy calculus of the planet. If viable, it could affect the balance of power between these two nations. If he didn’t accept the CIA’s offer, he rationalized, someone else would.

The synopsis written by the author gels the tale; ‘The Thorium Stratagem is about enemies working together. A shy financial analyst from New York visits his school chum in Moscow not realizing that his friend works at the FSB - formerly known as the KGB. They learn that the corrupt Secretary of Defense and a Russian billionaire plan to steal a discovery by Russian scientists of a green energy source that uses the element thorium. This discovery could alter the balance of power between the two countries. The financial analyst gets caught up in high stakes political intrigue. To survive, he must overcome his timid nature, evade attacks from an international assassin, and prevent the killing of the Russian president all while dealing with his emerging feelings for a questionable female journalist. If he and his friend fail, more than their lives will be lost; war between the two nations will erupt.

Strong writing with fine attention to detail and character development make this an edge of the seat thriller while at the same time holding to the prĂ©cis of the author’s three themes listed above. This is another finely wrought novel by a man who knows the territory and has the ability to share it. Grady Harp, November 16

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.

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