ACID TEST by Ross LaManna
Ballantine Books - July 31, 2001
ISBN 0345439929 - Hardcover
Suspense / Thriller

Reviewed by Susan McBride,
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Screenwriter Ross LaManna (“Rush Hour”) makes his literary debut with ACID TEST, a “geopolitical thriller” for the twenty-first century that’s being marketed at the Clancy crowd and for good reason.

The premise is this:  a former Russian soldier who has dubbed himself “Batu Khan” has amassed an army of cold blooded killers to take over former Soviet states and weak border countries to form the Trans-Altaic Alliance.  His latest coup is the Republic of Georgia.  How will the U.S. under the leadership of President Burton Marsh stop him from taking Russia itself next and adding nuclear weapons to his arsenal?

To add to the nasty mix, there’s a sudden pattern emerging of unusual murders from California to D.C. involving average people with no criminal records who abruptly commit atrocious acts and do it with a smile.  These killers next-door—dubbed by the press as having Mad Yuppie Disease—apparently show extraordinary strength and sensory abilities, yet no one understands the precise connection between them.

Which is where Matt Wilder comes in.  He’s LaManna’s own “Jack Ryan,” a Special Agent with the Air Force.  While on an earlier mission, Wilder had witnessed one of Batu Khan soldiers act with superhuman strength, the kind being ascribed to the Mad Yuppies, and he wonders about a connection.

The novel contains plenty of detailed descriptions of weaponry:  state of the art guns, planes, tanks, missiles, satellite communications, and so on.  As I’m the type of reader who prefers plots that focus more on people than pieces of metal and plastic, ACID TEST did not make the grade in that aspect.  I have, in fact, read Clancy and enjoyed him, though I’ll admit I skimmed over the paragraphs containing technical information.  I don’t doubt that Clancy fans will doubtless enjoy the action in ACID TEST, and LaManna is a deft writer who sets up his scenes well.  But I was reminded too much of the movie “Independence Day,” and I liked that far better.

Fans of technothrillers will likely embrace LaManna as a Clancy successor, and his debut foray into the genre of action adventure is slickly done.  As for me, next time, I’ll just wait for the movie.

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