The Edge of Madness (Harry Smith #2), by Michael Dobbs

Three stars (of five)

Dobbs thrusts Harry Smith back into the fray with another high-octane thriller, filled with politics and intrigue. As the world rests on its laurels, deep within the upper echelon of the Chinese Government a war is in the making. There are no missiles, no guns, and certainly no bombs. Even without active hostages, everyone is at risk; it’s a cyber-war. Deep in a Scottish castle, and under a veil of extreme secrecy, the British Prime Minister hosts the US and Russian presidents; a veritable 21st century Potsdam Conference. Trying to determine how to stop a cyber-attack by China, in which everyone is vulnerable because of world reliance on technology, remains at the forefront of the discussion. Each leader has a trusted deputy with them, Harry Smith acting in such a capacity for the PM. When outward acts of violence and military build-up begin appearing on television, the three leaders know they must do something, but remain unsure how to strike at the core and ensure they are successful. As they ponder, a nuclear reactor within the UK is about to make Chernobyl pale in comparison. In these new-age wars, little can be done to stop the aggressors, whose religion is silicon-based with followers facing towards the motherboard.

Dobbs’ idea is quite good, as the world still simmers from the ongoing wars with excessive price tags. As the world becomes even more reliant on electronics, it is no stretch to think that those who control the cyber world would have the upper hand. That being said, the approach and delivery of the book leave much to be desired. The characters, with all their political might, seem neutered of any abilities, almost damsels in distress. Even the conversations and plotting seems watered-down and less than believable. The ending not only does a 180 in a matter of pages, but lessens the impact the entire novel built towards. I can only hope that such an approach can be revised by others (or Dobbs) down the road, giving the plot and characters the teeth they so badly need. One interesting side story, though only two books into the series, Dobbs’s desire to personalise Queen Elizabeth II is highly humourous. While many see her as a detached monarch, Dobbs paints her in such a way as to be highly compassionate and opinionated. One can only wonder if he has a fan base within Buckingham Palace for this portrayal.

Kudos, Mr. Dobbs for this curious story. I was hooked and intrigued by the theme, but hoped for some stronger character support throughout.