Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar" popularized an astrologer's warning to the Roman dictator shortly before his assassination: "Beware the Ides of March." Edgar Award nominated author Ron Cutler (for The Seventh Sacrament) plays upon that well-known foreshadowing of doom for the title of his novel The Ides of March. The climax of this thriller of bioterrorism actually occurs two days after the title's calendar date, at the St. Patrick's Day parade in New York City. Granted, the historical sense of menace implicit in the ides is greater than that of St. Paddy's Day. Cutler's ninth novel marries aspects of Frank Herbert's excellent The White Plague and Richard Preston's The Hot Zone.
An Irishman whose wife and children have been killed in the perpetual Protestant/Catholic struggle determines to unleash his revenge upon the men responsible for his family's deaths. His weapon of choice: an enhanced biological agent eerily like Ebola in the agony of symptoms inflicted upon its victims. It's a tactic that no nation in the world is prepared to effectively counter.
Enter McCord, an NSA man whose personal code of justice keeps him on his superiors' black list. After he goes against orders in his pursuit of a Serbian war criminal, McCord is sent to Uganda to investigate a mysterious epidemic that has already killed a hundred thousand Sudanese. The illness causes its victims to bleed out even as their blood crystalizes around them in a grotesque caul. When a few cases turn up in South America, McCord and Kate Atwood realize that someone with the disease is managing to stay alive to spread the infectious agent, and that this carrier has a deadly agenda.
The trail of the carrier takes McCord from Africa and South America to post-Communist Russia, England and, finally, the United States. McCord discovers that the man he's searching for is an undercover British agent who had been working inside IRA splinter groups, a history that has prepared him too well for his final role as terrorist. The British won't admit that one of their own may have gone rogue, and U.S. officials deny that McCord's findings prove that the threat from this single man is real. Once again, McCord finds himself pitted against his own agency as much as against the lone man whose personal vendetta threatens the entire human race.
The premise of The Ides of March is a frightening but fascinating one, and the continent-hopping intrigue in which the main characters find themselves embroiled earmarks the story as a potentially great thriller. Brazilian imigrant smugglers, American white supremacist militias and the IRA make for some loaded encounters. Unfortunately, The Ides of March is nearly crippled by an abundance of misused punctuation, weird spelling conventions, redundant descriptors and plain old typos. If those mistakes can be corrected, The Ides of March just might be a top-of-the-heap thriller.