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Checkmate, a thriller benefitting from its author’s political experience and her tech-world expertise.

Karna Small Bodman’s background gives her special insight into the subtleties of international intrigue. She served in the Reagan White House for six years, first as deputy press secretary to Jim Brady and then as senior director of the National Security Council. Now she writes thrillers, using her unique experiences and insights to convey politics and diplomacy, enemy attacks and peaceful negotiations, the seaminess and splendor of Washington, D.C.

Bodman’s first novel, published in 2007, is Checkmate, a high-tech thriller involving missile launches and computer foils. She acknowledges that Checkmate’s plot grew out of imagining an alternative to Reagan’s MX missile project. Bodman speculates about the possibility of computers, rather than other launch missiles, attacking airborne projectiles not to destroy them but rather to take over their controls. Her plot features Dr. Cameron Talbot, a rigorous scientist whose expertise is to design programming that will capture the software of incoming missiles and send those very destructive missiles directly back to wherever they were launched.

When the novel begins, Cammy’s codes have only worked once, in a test that she cannot quite replicate no matter how many times she tries. As she works to reproduce that initial success, disparate interests force her to speed up her science. There is the world of Washington, D.C., funding, with the infighting of competing corporations, the military-industrial complex, countless lobbyists, and self-interested politicians. There also is the world of geo-political jockeying. In this case, India, Pakistan, and a group of Muslim terrorists are determined to cause chaos for everyone else. Everyone wants a piece of Cammy’s inchoate anti-missile defense system, or else they want her dead.

Checkmate contains countless insider revelations. This is where Bodman shines—scenes at high-stakes cocktail and dinner parties, shabby vote trading, double-dealing, and outright espionage. Her characters might well be stepping out of our daily television news, so realistic are their self-serving portrayals. To complicate matters, Bodman plays her political game with her cards held close to her chest. Not until the very end of Checkmate does the reader learn who might be betraying Bandaq Technologies, Cammy’s company, and who might be Bandaq’s allies in the rush to bring Cammy’s programming to fruition.

Bodman followed Checkmate with a second Cammy Talbot novel, Gambit. The third novel in The White House National Security Series introduces another strong female lead, Samantha Reid, Deputy Director of the White House Office of National Security. Reid is featured in Final Finesse, Castle Bravo, and Trust But Verify. Clearly, Bodman uses her personal experience in and around the White House as a wellspring, presenting strong, competent women involved in negotiating major political confrontations.

The operational methods of these women differ from your run-of-the-mill thriller. Much of the action takes place intellectually rather than physically. There are physical altercations, even brutal attacks and murders in Checkmate, but Cammy doesn’t overpower her adversaries like an action hero might do. Instead, she outthinks her foes. So, this novel is a welcome respite from the larger-than-life macho protagonists of so many thrillers today, just as Karna Small Bodman’s finesses are a welcome alternative in the physical fictional world of international interplay and intrigue. –  Ann Ronald

Also available by Karna Small Bodman: Trust but Verify; Gambit; Final Finesse; Castle Bravo.

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