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The Second Perimeter    by Mike Lawson Amazon.com order for
Second Perimeter
by Mike Lawson
Order:  USA  Can
Doubleday, 2006 (2006)
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* *   Reviewed by Tim Davis

Dave Whitfield, a nuclear propulsion specialist and a nephew of the Secretary of the Navy, seems a little paranoid. At least that's what his immediate supervisors at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard think. After all, the air-tight security measures at the nuclear ship repair facility are absolutely unassailable, so everyone tries to ignore Whitfield when he starts complaining that two contract consultants may be involved in very serious breaches of national security.

So, when Whitfield contacts his uncle, his uncle contacts a friend in congress, John Mahoney (the Speaker of the House), and Mahoney sends Joe DeMarco, one of his aides, on a straightforward fact-finding mission to the shipyard in Bremerton, Washington. DeMarco has a simple job: Find out what's going on out there (which is probably nothing), and report back to Mahoney as soon as possible so that he can convince the Secretary of the Navy that Whitfield is simply imagining problems.

With plenty of latitude as to how to proceed, but with a deadline to get things sorted out quickly so that Mahoney can get the Secretary off his back, DeMarco enlists the assistance of his good friend Emma (a retired Defense Intelligence Agency operative). When the somewhat na´ve DeMarco and the more experienced Emma arrive in Bremerton, they begin to look into the matter by talking first with Whitfield and then interviewing Norton and Mulherin, the two contract consultants whose substandard performance on the job (and recently acquired affluence) have spurred Whitfield's suspicions. Going a step further, DeMarco and Emma meet with Carmody, Norton's and Mulherin's contract employer.

Emma, although she does not initially realize it, crossed paths previously with Carmody (a former Navy Seal with an enigmatic background following his naval service). Eventually she suspects that Carmody has connections with (and even seems subordinate to) an Asian espionage agent - a woman named Li Mei - who definitely crossed paths with Emma twenty years earlier during a CIA operation in Hawaii.

However, before Emma and DeMarco can put all the pieces together and sort out what (if anything) has really been going on in Bremerton, the problems - and dangers - begin to accumulate: A shipyard worker - central to the investigation - is stabbed to death in a Bremerton parking lot, a contract manager in the Navy department dies mysteriously in an automobile accident, Mulherin is assaulted and threatened by a couple of Asian men, two contract workers are apparently killed when their small boat explodes in the waters of Puget Sound, another man with whom Li Mei had been friendly suddenly appears to have disappeared when his fishing boat capsized, and - just to keep things interesting - three policemen are killed. And all of that is in the first half of the book!

Negotiating more twists and turns than a treacherous mountain road in Bremerton's nearby Olympic National Forest, The Second Perimeter moves along quickly at a dizzying pace. This book is, to say the least, an action novel; you won't be encumbered by complex characterizations, provocative issues, and mind-numbing themes, but you will be treated to a cinematic thriller with plenty of excitement and surprises. As a novel of suspense that at first appears to be all about espionage and duplicity, The Second Perimeter suddenly shifts gears and appears to be all about personal revenge and psychopathology; then, just to keep readers on their toes, author Mike Lawson's thrill-ride forces everyone to accept the fact that all appearances are deceiving. In fact, DeMarco and Emma have all that they can handle (what with the violent fights, gun battles, and high-speed chases), and not even the Speaker of the House is safe. Really, nothing seems certain until the final scene. But don't cheat by jumping ahead to the final pages. Simply enjoy every moment of the exhilarating (and occasionally bewildering) ride.

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