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Don’t let the cover fool you. Julie Coulter Bellon’s new release On the Edge is not some kind of geography or travel book. It’s a first rate adventure novel done up in misleading packaging. Actually the cover is quiet attractive — for a National Geographic offering.
From the first paragraph, I was hooked on a tale of two intelligence officers, one a CIA agent from the United States and the other, a Canadian Security Intelligence Service agent, pursuing the same terrorist leader without either knowing the other’s true reason for being in the third world nation of Uganda. The Canadian agent, Dylan Campbell, is on a fact-finding mission not long after recuperating from a bullet wound received during another case. His cover is that he’s a photo-journalist. He’s also a recent convert to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who is considering retiring from the service in order to attend church on a regular basis, get married, and start a family. He even has a particular young woman in mind when he dreams of marrying and settling down. A beautiful, caring volunteer nurse at the Kampala hospital has caught his attention. For him, the life of an agent has lost its adventurous appeal. He just wants to get the information he was sent to find and head back to Canada. Only heading back to Canada doesn’t go as planned.
Elizabeth Spencer is a CIA agent sent to Africa to infiltrate a terrorist group suspected of preparing a biological weapon to strike against the United States. A private hospital in Uganda appears to have a connection with the terrorist leader, and Elizabeth arrives there as a volunteer nurse intent on relieving the suffering of the impoverished people of Kampala. She is working with a partner and reports to a supervisor who behaves suspiciously. Her careful ground work in establishing a trusting relationship with the terrorist leader is threatened when a Canadian photo-journalist she has befriended shows up at an inopportune moment. When Dylan is suspected of being a spy, Elizabeth is forced to jeopardize her own safety in order to keep him from becoming a test subject for the terrorists’ biological weapon.
Bellon weaves a multi-layered story together in a satisfying fashion. First there’s international intrigue straight out of today’s headlines, as Elizabeth and Dylan work to stop terrorists who have a biological weapon in their hands and are obsessed with destroying the United States. A biological attack on the United States would not stop at the Canadian border, but would have a catastrophic effect on Canada as well. There’s also a story of terrible poverty and intimidation fostered by a corrupt third world government. Romance develops between the two agents whose instincts tell each of them to trust the other, but circumstantial evidence and a suspicion that the other isn’t who he/she claims to be throws up believable roadblocks. Another story quietly shows the growing testimony and faith of a recent convert to the Gospel.
On the Edge is a quick but satisfying read. The characters, especially Dylan, are well-developed and the minor native characters are fleshed out enough to allow readers to sympathize with them. More could have been explained about the terrorist leader’s background, but enough is given to provide a feel for his hatred and obsession. The setting is particularly well done and leaves the reader feeling intimately acquainted with a third world nation. The wrap-up, following the end of the suspense story, is a little more drawn out than is comfortable to me, but is handled better than in her first novel. With this second novel, Julie Coulter Bellon has established herself as an author worth watching for.