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    Review of DECEPTION by John Altman

    G. P. Putnam's Sons, 2003

    Hannah Gray is on the run from the law after committing fraud. With a fake passport and false identity, she's on a cruise trying to escape trouble when she runs into far greater danger. One of her fellow passengers is a scientist who has discovered a formula that can create miniature black holes--and possibly destroy the planet. When the scientist's wife accidentally gives the formula (in the back of a book) to Hannah, and then the couple is killed, Hannah must somehow escape and stay ahead of the killers.

    Government bureaucrat Jim Keyes has given his life to the secret government project. Now, so close to success, a key scientist has deserted, possibly taking his formula to the highest bidder. In the hands of a terrorist, the miniature black hole would be the ultimate weapon of complete destruction. Keyes intends to pull out all of the stops to get that formula back, even if it means killing a slightly innocent woman. Keyes has sacrificed his family and health to the project--more sacrifice doesn't scare him. What scares him is the possibility of failure.

    Author John Altman's writing is somewhat reminiscent of John Le Carre in the morally ambivalent world of government and spies. DECEPTION almost works. If Hannah had been a little more sympathetic, the coincidence of her getting the formula a little less far-fetched, and the story provided a bit more action in the first hundred pages, I would be happy to recommend this novel strongly. Instead, DECEPTION can only be seen as interesting but flawed. Although Keyes was definitely a jerk, I spent most of the book hoping that he'd get to Hannah (although any reader would know that that wasn't going to happen). Altman may have sensed Keyes becoming too sympathetic and pushed him over the edge late in the novel, but he never got the idea that we would have to like Hannah for us to care whether she manages to escape the clutches of international terrorists and U.S. government spies (the two are often hard to tell apart) in Altman's novel.

    DECEPTION is worth the read, but uncompelling and unsympathetic characters make it fall short of its potential.

    Two Stars

    Reviewed 7/10/03

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