Denver Bar Association
June 2002
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Acronyms, Intrigue in 'Collateral Damage'

by Greg Rawlings

 

Clancy-esque book big on weaponry and milleau.

 

No, this "Collateral Damage" by H.R. Hertzberg is not Arnold’s latest spectacle of catastrophe, instead, it’s a wild ride of a novel by Denver lawyer H.R. Hertzberg. What originally attracted me to the book, other than fellow-Docketeer (and all-powerful Committee chairman) Mike Decker slipping it to me at Maggiano’s one cold winter day, was the fact that Hertzberg had been to my hometown, Portsmouth, Ohio, and lived to tell the tale. More impressive still, he’d been to the legendarily dangerous Portsmouth Uranium Enrichment Plant, seed of many a nasty lawsuit. Furthermore, he’d represented the nuclear industry for years (or so sayeth the book jacket).

A little admission here: I clerked for a lawyer in Cincinnati named Stan Chesley, otherwise known in the world of massive toxic torts as "The Master of Disaster." The firm was involved in a class action arising from an allegation of nuclear contaminants running amok at the PUEP, and I sat in on

a few depositions, etc. I promise, though, that I won’t let a lifetime of enmity regarding the plant, which is actually outside the hellish village of Piketon, Ohio, rather than in my old backyard, in any way color this review.

Shoot, one of my best buddies from high school and also my youngest sister’s husband still work there. There’s not much else in that neck of the sticks, as Hertzberg seems to know well.

So here goes, "Collateral Damage" really is a fast-paced thriller of the old school, with a number of exciting set pieces and colorful characters. One of my faves occurs about halfway in and has a disguised CIA man trading barbs and views down the barrel with an FBI agent, while another CIA type watches helplessly from a hospital bed. Hertzberg has obviously done his homework on the worlds of international intrigue, South African right-wingers, the uranium industry, and how the American political system reacts to terrorists—talk about a timely book.

The protagonist is Jack Massey, a former CIA man with a checkered past; so

checkered that he’s not Jack Massey anymore. However, even with his troubles, the CIA decides they need him back, badly. You see, the above-noted South African antagonists have targeted American nuke plants, and seem well on their way to pulling off their caper. Suffice it to say, Massey, now Gatreaux, eventually swallows his bile at his past mistreatment and kicks it into gear. Big time.

My guess is, if you like Tom Clancy and his ilk, and millions do, you’ll get a kick out of "Collateral Damage" It’s full of all the cool acronyms of its underground milleau (AVLIS, NID, CRITICOM, ALCM, LOX), serious weaponry (I especially envied the SR10), and tough guy talk and action. My only real complaint, other than Portsmouth not being wiped off the map, is the size. Only John le Carre’ has even been able to do international espionage at any length, and at 396 pages, this novel could use a little trimming. But I feel that way about most books (and movies). And by the way, this might make a swell film.


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