Dead Air
Charles Jaco
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Buy Charles Jaco's *Dead Air* online Dead Air

Charles Jaco
Ballantine Books
272 pages
June 1998
rated 3 of 5 possible stars

You just never know what the result will be when a journalist turns novelist. Charles Jaco, who gained worldwide recognition during the Gulf War with his reports of SCUD missile attacks on Saudi Arabia, has garnered nearly three dozen national and international journalism awards over the course of his career, including two Edward R. Murrow awards. Of course, journalism and fiction are two vastly different breeds of cats, and excellence in one does not necessarily translate to excellence in the other. For Dead Air, his first novel, Jaco has chosen to stick with a topic he's well acquainted with: the Gulf War, seen from a reporter's point of view.

Peter Dees, a veteran television correspondent for Globe-Star Television (GTV), is in Haiti with his producer covering the political changes there post-Baby Doc Duvalier, especially the emerging radical priest Jean-Bertrand Aristide. When Dees' producer is found murdered execution-style with a bullet to the back of his head and another through his left eye, and the assassin is identically killed very shortly after, Dees can only assume that it has something to do with the contents of the laptop computer his producer left with him for safekeeping just before his death.

What he finds on the computer is a file with barebones evidence that somebody in the U.S. is shipping anthrax to Iraq, where Saddam Hussein may be developing a new generation of chemical and biological weapons. Dees checks several other chemical names he finds on the laptop with GTV's mainframe and discovers among others a precursor for the nerve gas sarin. Dees asks Melinda Adams, a female producer he chances to get on the phone when he calls GTV, to check into a U.S. company called Archgate, another informative scrap he's gleaned from the laptop. She tips him that there's going to be a correspondent opening in Cairo, and he jumps at the chance to unravel the story that might be the reason behind his friend's death.

Once in the Middle East, Dees begins digging, using every resource and trick he can come up with to unearth the mystery of where the U.S.-originating chemicals are ending up. As Iraq begins pressing the border of Kuwait and the U.S. military moves into the first stages of the Gulf War, Dees meets up with Melinda Adams in real life. She's an intelligent and beautiful woman, and Dees falls for her in exactly no time.

As employees of the globe-spanning GTV, Dees and Melinda Adams are granted access to places and people that other networks will be kept waiting indefinitely for. GTV's bossman McKinley Burke and his right-hand man Timothy Volga pull strings behind the scenes that Dees can only guess at. But when Dees tries calling the mystery company Archgate and reaches GTV offices, he realizes that he's become an increasingly expendable pawn in the power games of political and corporate giants. In danger not only from Iraqi explosives and chemicals but from the very people he's supposed to trust most, Dees goes rogue. Using GTV as the network is using him, he risks it all to uncover a conspiracy of earth-shattering proportions.

Jaco fills Dead Air with Gulf War facts and impressions-- the often macabre sights and sounds of combat, the clash of cultures, the constant fear of chemical and biological contamination. Weaving fact and fiction, he creates an ominous tale of betrayal that will have conspiracy theorists in thrall. Dead Air may not brim with brilliant characterizations and intrepid prose, but it's got the action and intrigue to make it a passable escapist summer read.

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