The Critical Element

Critical Element: John Betcher

When Air Force Lieutenant Michael Avery pours himself a cup of lukewarm coffee little does he know that the events that follow would wake him up faster than the caffeine in the coffee? A slow night, monitoring devices operating normally and then in flash something changed. Staring at the screen realizing what is happening Avery’s console light sup with an alert reflecting a missile launch. Could this be real? Could it be something out of the ordinary or a simple anomaly? What about a simple malfunction or is it something else? After assessing the information and getting confirmation from the Aegis Ballistic Missile Detection System, he realizes this is for real and in fact a ballistic missile was launched by believe it or not North Korea. But, would they be successful and what is the real reason for this missile launch? As the information began to filter in and the threat unfolding the room where he was working filled with numerous personnel each trying to find out the true source, where it might land and any immediate threat to a specific population. As Avery checked the altitude of this missile he began to relax realizing that the intended target Philippines was safe. But, like everything else when the all-clear signal was sounded and the danger averted we often become complacent and keep on the alert. The are nine commands in the United States Strategic Command including detachments of the North American Aerospace Defense Command and the SSN or the U.S. Space Surveillance Network each working to stop any attacks on the United States along with our allies by focusing, monitoring and “tracking air and space-based threats.” But, when things cool down and the danger had passed many thought that once again Northern Korea failed in its attempt to launch a missile. But, like everything else in life sometimes things are not always what they appear to be and the end result of this as the Korean’s stated, “weather satellite,” although some though dead, many claimed to be in violation of the United Security Council resolutions clearly aimed at “restricting the rogue states’ nuclear and ballistic missile ambitions.” But, what no one realizes that sometimes patience wins out and the end result is definitely not what anyone expects. So, where does this missile land? What happens when it reaches its optimal height? What if you were looking through a telescope and saw two things: one a missing panel and the second a perfect sphere as this thing comes tumbling down.

Rodney Holton loves to milk people for all they are worth. His many ventures are so outlandish that when he hits attorney James Becker with his latest what most would think half-baked idea, you just won’t believe what he claims he saw, where it wound up and how it might link to our missing missile. How would you react if a meteor landed right smack dap in the middle of your farm? Well, if you were Rodney you would hire a lawyer for a dollar, demand that he keep your conversation in confidence and then find a way to make money. The conversation between Rodney and Beck is priceless as you listen to his reasoning and try to follow his logic. But, there is much more. Although Rodney claims that this meteor fell in the middle of his farm, he heard it fall but never saw it. This bothers Beck and sends him to seek the advice of his close friend and Chief Deputy Sheriff Gunner. But, not before he and so many others pay Rodney twenty dollars a head just to see this thing in person.

The setting is Red Wing, Minnesota, the meteor set amid some burnt grass and the area cordoned off with tape so that it looks like a bowling ball fell from the sky. But, this would not be a mystery if everything fit into a nice neat package, and this does not. Something about Rodney’s story does not ring true, hence the visit to Gunner to discuss what is nagging at him and hopefully together they might find the answer.

Sometimes events connect and things happen that cause people to take actions that they normally would not. Kent Evans was once a prosperous veterinary pharmacist supplies medicines, vaccines and needed supplies to farmers to keep their livestock healthy. But, what happens when the economy takes dive, some decide to cut corners and preventive veterinary care is not of upmost important to farmers. Making sure their cattle remain healthy, not ordering the needed supplies from people like Kent, allows them to cut corners and hopefully keep the beef industry healthy without the services of this man. Bills have to be paid, and costs are rising and Kent Evans decides to push the envelope, think out of his dangerous box and develops a way to reignite his business but at what cost and to whom? As the story develops and you hear his plot you begin to wonder just how far he will go to increase his sales and hide what he’s doing from his family. A short trip to South Africa might solve his problem and what he manages to bring back might cause a pandemic that would not only create havoc in the beef industry but would ruin another man’s livestock and life. Infecting cows with Hoof and Mouth Disease was the mode of infection, just how you won’t believe as one man carries out his plot bringing back this strain which comes from a South African tribal farming community and getting to the United States took some great ingenuity and expert planning. Just how this all ties in and how did Kent learn more about ways to contaminate animals, the vaccines being created and more is quite interesting. Just how one “meteor,” this disease and a missile attack connects is the creation of author John Betcher in his latest blockbuster novel: The Critical Element.

Enter in FBI agent Costa and his thoughts on the meteor as we find out that it has been stolen from Rodney’s farm and the events that follow tie in the missing North Korean Missile to this meteor. Added in Rodney’s cattle comes down with Hoof and Mouth Disease and the real mystery is how they were infected and by whom. “Foot-and-mouth disease or hoof-and-mouth disease (Aphthae epizooticae) is an infectious and sometimes fatal viraldisease that affects cloven-hoofedanimals, including domestic and wild bovids. The virus causes a high fever for two or three days, followed by blisters inside the mouth and on the feet that may rupture and cause lameness. Foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) has severe implications for animal farming, since it is highly infectious and can be spread by infected animals through aerosols, through contact with contaminated farming equipment, vehicles, clothing or feed, and by domestic and wild predators.[1] Its containment demands considerable efforts in vaccination, strict monitoring, trade restrictions and quarantines, and occasionally the elimination of millions of animals.” So, when Rodney’s cattle become infected with this disease what happens will deplete his herd, cause great concern and hopefully according to one man increase his income. But, there is much more as one Korean man is charged with the responsibility to take apart the missile, find out what it is comprised and make sure its contents are safely secured. Within the confines of this object the author relates is white powder mixed with another substance, which is also white. Why would anyone want to land a missile in Minnesota? What is their major plan and who is the person that wants to enact a bioterrorist attack on America soil? Is the mastermind the North Korean Dictator who expects his word and wishes to be followed without any pause for thought or questioning? With the help of his old friend Bull, his wife Beth and the Deputy Sheriff, Beck can often circumvent the rules and regulations of other agencies and get the job done himself. Two halves make a whole and the center of the missile was filled with a dangerous white powder but another powder of substance of undiluted powder needs to be found. Just what was this critical element? Millions might be obliterated if this powder finds the right breeding ground. Linking the missile to attack on Rodney’s cattle the team of experts find the cause and where the disease came from surprises them. But, would North Korea be so creative as to create this epidemic? What about the contents of the capsule?


When Beck with the help of his wife Beth learn more about the location of the man who sent two emails to the Gunner in order to get some publicity for his Hoof and Mouth Stunt, another group will try and locate the Korean man’s wife and see just how she fits into the picture. Learning more about the white powder, the fact that only half was found within the capsule and the rest was something else alerted Beck to the fact that the FBI needs to look closer at the wife and find out where the other half of the white powder is and when and where would the threat take place.


What about a huge Mall to set up a chain reaction that would go unnoticed for a while until people got really sick? What about trying to contain whatever this substance was in without causing a commotion? When Beck and Bull narrow down the distance between them and the possible threat it takes a whole army plus the FBI to complete the task, bring it under control and hopefully get those involved. While they are at one end of the state Gunner and his rookie cop Kyle are at another hopefully stopping Kent before he completes what he hopes would help increase his veterinary medical supply business. As Beth is his computer encryption expert, Gunner takes matters into his own hands to get one man so desperate that he was willing to risk more than must the lives of some livestock.


An ending that will keep you guessing at they race the clock to stop two terrorist attacks from happening but will they get there in time. Just what is the critical element that ties both of these cases together? I have it figured out but the answer is classified and limited to those with clearance. So, in order to find out what happens you will just have to read this novel for yourself. Critical Element: One outstanding novel filled with surprises, twists, turns, Beck’s special brand of sarcasm and humor and characters that you definitely want to meet again. What is next for Beck, Beth and the rest? Only five star author John Betcher has the answer and he’s not giving anything away at this time.


Fran Lewis: reviewer