"GUARDIAN OF LIES," by Steve Martini, William Morrow, $26.95 (f)

Defense lawyer Paul Madriani meets 26-year-old Katia, a young woman from Costa Rica, who tells him that she feels as if she is a prisoner of Emerson Pike, a rare coins dealer.

Madriani hands her his card, saying to call him if she needs help. Two weeks later, the police contact Paul. Katia has been arrested in Pike's murder.

Katia had escaped Pike's house, but that same night a hired assassin called "Muerte Liquida" (liquid death) killed Pike.

The assassin set up the killing to look as if Katia had done it. He was really after pictures in Pike's possession, which he didn't get because Katia had stuck them in her purse before she left.

Now Paul needs to figure out how the pictures relate to Pike's murder, why the federal government is also after the pictures and keep his client safe, while evading the prosecutor who wants to implicate Paul in the murder since he had met with Katia previously.

Paul travels to Costa Rica to solve the problem, finding himself following a terrorist group that plans to set off a nuclear bomb in the United States.

The reader finds out fairly early that the pictures involve Katia's grandfather, a former Russian nuclear expert who is taking care of a nuclear bomb from the Cuban Missile Crisis.

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A Mideast terrorist wants the bomb readied, which Katia's grandfather is forced to do because of the threats against both his daughter and granddaughter.

What makes the book so compelling is that all these events might be plausible, although exaggerated.

At the end of the book, Martini explains where he got all his facts about nuclear bombs, details about how Homeland Security can spy not only on terrorists but any citizen, and the problem with drug cartels and their back-and-forth movement from the United States to Mexico.

e-mail: kari@desnews.com