Book Review: The Ares Decision

Robert Ludlum / Kyle Mills
(A Covert-One Novel)

The eighth novel in the Covert-One series, featuring Lt Col Jon Smith, Randi Russell and Fred Klein

The Covert One Series is about a special intelligence unit, directly reporting to the President of the USA, bypassing all existing intelligence set-ups. The series is built around Jon Smith, A Lt Col and a bonafide top-notch medical scientist who became an agent when he lost his fiance to a bioweapon; Randi Russell – CIA Agent and Jon’s fiance’s kid sister. The hallmark of the series is that the theme is built around high-tech and bio-weapons

A US special forces team is wiped out in Uganda by unarmed farmers; this special team was equipped with the latest weapons and technology, were highly trained and battle-hardened soldiers… yet they were decimated by just a few farmers and village folk. This inexplicable event forces the president to call In Fred Klein, the head of Covert-One. The reluctant Fred tasks Lt Col Jon Smith with the investigation. What makes matters so interesting is that the doomed US team was hunting a notorious terrorist Caleb Bahame; and that this was not the first time that a hunt for Caleb Bahame had been shorted by villagers. The investigation by Smith and his team take them deep into the jungles of Uganda, amid treachery and double cross

On a parallel, things are coming to a boil in Iran, with the existing regime not being liked by Uncle Sam. To make things worse for the Iranians, they also have to deal with internal dissidents led by an man known only as Farrokh. The only thing known about Farrokh is that he is young, educated and extremely tech-savvy.

Mixed up in all this is everyone’s favourite whipping boy: Caught-In-The-Act : yes, you got it, CIA! Apparently the CIA has been withholding information from the powers above them – and that brings in Randi Russell, who is approached by a fellow agent who begins to feel the pinch of his conscience

The 3 plots get inevitably intertwined, with one leading to the other; and, as is the norm in the Covert-One series, posing a grave threat to both world peace as well as the USA… and it is upto our team of heroes and heroines to stop the bad guys.   

Why is the CIA withholding information? What is the Iran angle? How can a few villagers kill a highly trained and armed army team? How does this pose a threat to the citizens of the USA? How does Iran benefit from this set-up? To answer these questions... read the book!


The Covert-one series is known for the presence of a credible bioweapon or high-tech weapon that can cause mass deaths in the public at large; an international hot-spot; a holier-than-thou, decent, above board USA (Sorry, couldn’t help myself there…. What an incongruity compared with the real world) that cannot do anything without proof; an international leader who is willing to go to any lengths to achieve his objective; and a lack of sufficient time for a proper above-board strategy to be employed.

The above is what makes a Covert-One novel unique – and all of these are present in this book. The previous book (The Arctic Event) was an aberration in that it did not adhere to one or two of the above hallmarks – but this one follows the series norm strictly. The narrative is fast-paced, the interest is held throughout the book. The flow is logically consistent and captivating. 

Since the series has been written by different authors, characterisation is a huge challenge: and this is where  I feel that this book has missed out. The character of Col Smith has been altered; his personality traits have been significantly altered. While one may say that with time, the Col has changed (time does change a person), to me it seemed as though it were a very different Col Smith. Gone was the compassionate Smith who would think as a doctor even in the middle of war; in his place there is a far more controlled person. Similarly, the character of Russell has also undergone subtle change that makes it inconsistent with the original series. This does make a difference in the overall experience

All in all, it is a good book – a page turner, a book that you would want to have in your collection; and book that you can read again and again. It stands comparison with the original series; you can identify the central actors (despite the subtle changes in the characters plots). The relations between the original characters have also been taken forward, a forward movement if you will that is to be expected in any relationship. The series takes the next step and integrates Russell in Covert-One at the end of the novel, which is logically consistent with the progression of the series over the past 8 books. A definite yes from my side for this book… despite its minor flaw in the character sketch!


  1. a good review Vishal. I think Peter Howell was in the Ares Decision. Did he not kill Caleb?

  2. A good review Vishal. But I thought Peter was with Jon in Uganda. Wasn't he the one who killed Caleb? Surprised to read that he is missing.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. I was thinking of Marty Zellerbach.... thanks. Dont know how that error crept in! And Peter Howell was missing in the previous book... good one. Thanks for pointing it out!

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