The Altman Code is the fourth thriller in the Covert-One series, which was initially created by the famous author Robert Ludlum and, after his demise, continued by author Gayle Lynds. In this book, Army Lieutenant Colonel/medical doctor/scientist/Covert-One operative Jon Smith is once again in the thick of things. Smith is sent to locate the true manifest of a Chinese ship rumored to be carrying materials used to make chemical weapons to Iraq. Without proof, President Castilla of the US is wary of creating an international incident by boarding the ship. This is especially crucial as America is on the verge of signing a groundbreaking human rights treaty and entering a new period of open exchange and commerce between these two giant nations.
What was supposed to be a simple job becomes extremely complicated when Jonís contact in China is shot to death. All at once Jon is on the run for his life with a most diabolical Chinese assassin hot on his trail. The action rapidly shifts from one part of China to another with nary a pause in between. President Castilla is also in a dilemma: heís given the startling news that his biological father, who was believed to be dead, may be still be alive after having been held prisoner by the Chinese for fifty years. Castilla is in the complex position of choosing between his father and the nationís security. The highly secretive Chinese ruling party and its members with their varying philosophies, are all puzzled and irked by Americaís actions on the high seas. Things rapidly deteriorate until it looks like the world is standing on the verge of perhaps the most destructive world war yet.
This latest Ludlum novel is as exciting as ever, and typical of Ludlumís trademark plot developments. As usual, an international catastrophe in the making brings the Covert-One team and Jon Smith to the rescue. They do so with critical help from intrepid CIA agent Randi Russell. There appears to be an attraction developing between Jon and Randi, but not much is made of this interesting romantic angle. The book is appealing despite some predictable story staples. The complex plot is complex, true to current world situation, swiftly traverses Chinaís vast breadth and beyond. Lynds brings beautifully to life the growing Asian superpower China with its devious political manipulations, vast populace, countless dialects and complex codes of behavior.
Unfortunately, The Altman Code lacks the flavor of the Ludlum-style sudden and unpredictable plot twists which made his novels so exciting and intriguing. Although the action is as plentiful as ever, it's never as deadly or as real as in previous Ludlum books. This is not exactly disappointing, though it does take the edge off the story and renders it exciting without being thrilling. At times it is almost impossible to believe that such highly trained men could behave so tamely in the face of danger, or that most politicians could be so nice and selfless, but again, this not necessarily bad. The book does suffer from some poor editing and proofreading. This is a bit distracting, but it surely will not deter the readers from enjoying this fast-paced action story.