"The Hades Factor" begins with three deaths in three different American cities, the result of a mysterious virus that no one's ever seen before. An incident report is dispatched to America's leading biological research institutes, including the CDC and the US Army's USAAMRIID, where a dedicated and talented young scientist named Sophie Russell begins work on identifying and curing the disease. In her investigation, she remembers an old acquaintance named Victor Tremont, now the head of a large pharmaceutical company named Blanchard Pharmaceuticals, and turns to him for help.
Unknown to Sophie, Tremont is the brains behind a diabolical plot to release the virus into the general population, and then make billions peddling a cure. Sophie's call scares him, and he dispatches a team of professionals to eliminate her.
Enter Lt. Col. Jonathan Smith, Sophie's colleague and lover, and a man who's see his fair share of action during the war. With the murder of his lover fresh in his mind, he decides to pursue the investigation himself and stop Tremont, with the aid of a brilliant (though slightly kooky) computer genius, and an ex-SAS veteran. His crusade carries him to Iraq and back to Tremont's headquarters, as he tries desperately to stop Tremont from killing billions of people with the deadly virus.
As you might think, this is formula stuff - Clancy's done it before in "Executive Orders", and the movie "Mission: Impossible II" has a storyline that is oddly similar. And Ludlum is unable to bring anything new to the table in "The Hades Factor" - this is an out-and-out action novel, in the style he is familiar for, with little attention paid to character development and an emphasis on numerous minor and major scuffles, both in and outside Iraq. The story speeds along, keeping you involved in both Jon Smith's troubles and Tremont's machinations, although some of the plot devices are a little hackneyed - the silent, ultra-professional henchman, the billionaire genius with a private laboratory, and the computer hacker who finds security holes no one else can, are all characters we've seen too many times before.
While the story is barely believable, and the conclusion a little too neat, "The Hades Factor" will still appeal to fans of hard-hitting action novels, primarily due to Ludlum's talent for putting his character into tight scrapes and then getting him out of them. However, this is at best a modern-day fairy tale - you know that the good guys will win in the end, and this predictability robs the novel of that all-important suspense factor - and is probably best left for long train or air journeys.This article was first published on 31 Oct 2000.