PUBLISHED: 10:44 AM on Wednesday, January 18, 2006
'Blindfold Game' filled with mysterious thrills

Forty-some years ago, historians say, the world came terrifyingly close to nuclear war.

The near-disaster is known as the Cuban Missile Crisis. For a few lump-in-the-throat days in the fall of 1962, Soviet missiles were poised, just 90 miles from the coast of the United States.

Although certain information was made public, it's been said that many people never knew just how much danger we were in.

Kind of makes you wonder what else you don't know, doesn't it?

In the new novel "Blindfold Game" by Dana Stabenow, one man knew that failure to stop a ship full of terrorists could mean death to hundreds of thousands of people. The problem is that few believed him.

When the bomb went off on Central Street in Pattaya Beach, Thailand, most people were too concerned about the dead and dying to have noticed the two men who stood impassively, watching chaos in the aftermath of flying glass and body parts. One woman saw their emotionless demeanor, which caused her to follow them. She took photos and information to her boss, Hugh Rincon of the CIA.

The pictures showed two slight Asian men, and both were familiar to Hugh. The men had been under surveillance by the CIA for "placing an order" with a Russian man who was willing to sell secrets to the U.S. for a little extra money. The order was for a small amount of cesium-137, a radioactive isotope used for cancer therapy.

And for dirty bombs.

The evidence was there, but Hugh's boss, the CIA director, said that Hugh was jumping to ill-founded conclusions. Still, to Hugh, it appeared that disaster was heading for the coast of Alaska, a place where he grew up and where he still had family.

When Hugh was a boy, he knew that he didn't want to work with his father in the family fishing business. As a 10-year-old, he heard stories from a law officer who had visited his school, and he was romanced by the idea of catching bad guys. Hugh's two best childhood friends also were smitten; Kyle now worked with the FBI in Anchorage and Sara, who also was Hugh's wife, was an executive officer with the Coast Guard, stationed in the Maritime Boundary Line near Alaska.

Stationed, that is, in the same area as the ship heading for the coast, carrying terrorists, a missile launcher and enough radioactive material to kill 240,000 people.

Did you ever get so eager about a story that you read too fast and you have to re-read a paragraph or two to catch what you missed in your excitement? That's what it's like when you read "Blindfold Game." The action is tense, the characters are realistic, and - while I thought the dialogue was a bit contrived - the plot line is so plausible, it's frightening.

While "Blindfold Game" is Dana Stabenow's first thriller, she has lots of mysteries to her credit. That's good to know, because when you're done with this book, you're going to want more.