Tom Clancy is a well-known name to anyone remotely interested in espionage books. Easily his best creation is the "Net Force" series, set in the hi-tech world of futuristic computers and Virtual Reality (VR). "Breaking Point" is his latest in the series dealing with the efforts of the Net Force (a special branch of the F.B.I.) to deal with cyber-crime. The book begins with a look at the different members. Jay, the hot-shot programmer, is off on a "reality trip" with a Buddhist friend; General Howard, head of defense, is ready to take his son Tyrone to a boomerang competition; Toni Fiorella, the second in command, has quit due to personal problems with Alex Michaels, Section Head, who is left to man the battle station alone.
In walks Dr. Morrison, a scientist working on a major Air Force-Navy project. The experiment deals with low frequency signals which when transmitted with enough power may affect thought patterns. Acting on Morrison's statement that his files have been tampered with, the Net Force moves in. However, in reality, the technique has been perfected and Morrison is negotiating with the Chinese to sell the technology. He successfully experiments on a few Chinese villages and finally a town in U.S.A. itself, causing people to go berserk. The Net Force and the Chinese move in, but Morrison, is whisked to safety by Luther Ventura, a pro assassin-turned-bodyguard. The novel then revolves around the Force's desperate bid to catch Morrison before the Chinese can get their hands on the technology.
The plot is believable and banks on its simplicity - scientist turns renegade, good guys give chase. The story is backed by strong scientific information about transmitters and frequency signals (although some of it may bounce overhead like an Ambrose delivery). However, it is a tad too coincidental at times - like the fact that Morrison beams down his signal at the precise spot where Gen. Howard is vacationing.
The best part of the book is the "Clancy touch" with regard to the detail, especially the weaponry. From snub-nosed Beretta's to elegantly carved Indonesian daggers, his artillery is enough to make the reader feel like an expert by the time the book is over. However, even that is surpassed by the snippets about VR. He showcases a truly cool world, but doesn't get carried away and retains enough sense to explain the action in "real" terms.
The characters are at best workable, simply because he spends too much time on the technobabble. But there is one surprising exception in the form of the ex-killer, Ventura. The man's approach to his work, his understanding of situations, his acceptance of his life's work, his thoroughness - all make for a strong and memorable character.
The book is decent, but not quite in the same league as Clancy's earlier work. It does keep your interest long enough to make the effort to finish it and the techno stuff is just sufficient for you to give this book the once-over.This article was first published on 17 Jul 2000.