BLOOD HEAT; By Steve Pieczenik; Harcourt Brace Jovanovich; 348 pages; $17.95.
A CALIFORNIA CONSPIRACY; By Richard Lamm and Arnold Grossman; St. Martin's Press; 231 pages; $18.95.
Anyone who's ever read a campaign brochure or a Congressional report knows that government leaders have a knack for weaving truth and fiction into a good, albeit distorted, story.
But some government insiders are not content keeping their works of quasi-fiction confined to the halls of government.
Former Colorado Gov. Richard Lamm has released his second novel, "A California Conspiracy," and former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Steve Pieczenik has released his second novel, "Blood Heat."
In the case of the latter, Dr. Pieczenik could turn out to be a better writer than he was a Deputy Assistant Secretary of State under Henry Kissinger and Cyrus Vance. Already his medical thrillers rank in the same class as those by Michael Crichton or Robin Cook.
In the case of the former, Lamm probably shouldn't have given up governing Colorado. It's a secure job with a pension - a pension that will make him more money than he will selling cheap novels.
Pieczenik, a Harvard-trained psychiatrist and national security expert, parlays his Washington insider experience into an all-too-believable tale of chemical biological warfare, a military conspiracy run amok and a bubonic plague virus that is devastating U.S. communities (including Dugway, Utah).
In "Bood Heat," Dr. Orestes Bradley, a Washington, D.C., epidemiologist, pieces together apparently unrelated clues to trace a deadly retrovirus through the corridors of U.S. political and military power to a disgustingly corrupt pharmaceutical tycoon in cahoots with the Japanese mafia.
It's a complicated, twisted plot that in the hands of a lesser storyteller could fall into disarray. But "Blood Heat" moves rapidly and crisply from one heart-stopping scenario to another, all the while maintaining a precise attention to detail and medical accuracy.
In fact, the books primary weakness is the painstaking attention to medical detail. Doctors will find it fascinating, but for the layman it can be cumbersome.
This conversation between Bradley and another physician is typical of "Blood Heat" dialogue: "First, I take a normal copy of the affected gene, containing, of course, coding for the missing HGPRT enzyme; then I insert it into a gene of a normal retrovirus. I splice the gene open with restriction enzyme and close with ligase, then I mix the defective bone-marrow cell with the newly engineered virus. Not bad, huh?"
If Pieczenik were relating these details at a party, most folks would find themselves nodding politely and smiling in total ignorance. The advantage of reading the book is that the scientific mumbo jumbo is a temporary diversion from a riveting plot. On the positive side, it lends an atmosphere of authenticity to the tale.
Pieczenik's attention to medical detail is equaled by his quickly moving storyline, the character development and the explicit (sometimes gory) attention to dramatic detail. It's a fun book to read.
"Blood Heat" is guaranteed to get your blood boiling.
"Blood Heat" is Pieczenik's second novel, the first being the highly praised "Mind Palace."
While "Blood Heat" succeeds on all counts as a first-rate thriller, "A California Conspiracy," tries but fails miserably. What you get is worn out cliches, hackneyed characters and gratuitous doses of explicit violence, drugs and sex - enough to make you wonder what really went on in the Colorado governor's mansion.
The plot, or conspiracy in this case, begins with the defeat of Japan in World War II and a pact by a group of Japanese warriors to employ economic warfare to bring the mighty Americans to their knees in a future generation.
But as their diabolical plans begin to mature 40 years later, they are uncovered by an aide to California Gov. Terry Jordan. The aide is promptly killed, as are every other Tom, Dick or Harry (you really don't care about their names because they all turn up dead anyway) who stumbles into the conspiracy.
Where "Blood Heat" pays excruciating attention to detail, "A California Conspiracy" pays little, if any. Where "Blood Heat" develops flesh-and-blood, believable characters, "Conspiracy" opts for stereotypes.
Where "Blood Heat" reveals just enough of the unfolding mystery to keep you riveted to the pages for hours, "Conspiracy" wanders aimless from one nonsensical situation to another.
When it's all said and done, "A California Conspiracy" is shallow, predictable and preachy. Doesn't Lamm have anything better to do?
The book was co-authored by Arnold Grossman, a Denver advertising executive.