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The Trudeau Vector

The Trudeau Vector by Juris Jurjevics. Viking, 2005; 402 pages; $24.95.

FROM THE DUST JACKET:

As the international team of scientists at the spectacular Trudeau Research Center prepares for six months of unrelenting Arctic winter, three of their colleagues are found dead, their pupils missing, and their bodies contorted in ghastly, unnatural positions. An American epidemiologist, the talented and unconventional Dr. Jessica Hanley, is summoned to investigate the medical riddle posed by these grisly deaths. At the same time, a decorated Russian admiral in Moscow is assigned a top-secret mission to locate and retrieve a Russian submarine that has suddenly and inexplicably vanished from central command's radar. The die is cast. Their lives will cross in Jurjevics's engrossing debut thriller, brilliant and terrifying in its medical and historical accuracy. Hanley's inquiry and Admiral Rudenko's quest bring them up against hazards much bigger than microbes -- scientific megalomania, lingering cold war tensions, world-threatening environmental toxins, all unfolding in the unforgiving extremes of the Arctic.

A thriller that superbly depicts the precarious, volatile area where science and global politics can clash with disastrous results, The Trudeau Vector is reminiscent of the classic suspense of Frederick Forsyth's The Day of the Jackal and the terrifying realism of Michael Crichton's The Andromeda Strain. With its disquieting and revelatory authenticity, readers cannot help but fall under its spell and ask themselves, "Could this really happen?"

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

Publishers Weekly: Soho Press cofounder and publisher Jurjevics gives a knowing nod to apocalyptic plot expectations for biohazard thrillers, but the real passion of his debut lies in presenting difficult science clearly, creating complex characters, and playing Cassandra on the environment. Four members of Arctic Research Station Trudeau go missing: three of them turn up, still in their cold-weather suits, twisted into positions of inexplicably grotesque and agonizing death; the fourth lays nearby, naked and frozen solid.... Jurjevics's debut will lure those with a taste for deep science, medical intricacies, and a plot that twists and shines like the aurora borealis.

Kirkus Reviews: Jurjevics weaves his great fondness for the fragile, seductive, polar environment with carefully researched viral lore.... Offshore-educated M.D. Jessica Hanley, famous for her intuitive epidemiological solutions, draws the short stick when the call comes from the Trudeau Research Center, which houses a collection of scientists way up at the top of Canada.... Parachuted in at the last possible moment before the Center becomes unreachable in the months-long arctic night, Hanley deputizes a couple of assistants and starts sorting through every last personal belonging of the departed, looking for what must either be a very vicious bacterium, or a virus.... Hanley is one busy epidemiologist. But a good one. She has the culprit identified just as some very dashing Russians return to clean up the mess left by their dead colleague.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Juris Jurjevics was born in 1943 in Latvia and emigrated to the United States. He served in Vietnam and is the cofounder and publisher of Soho Press. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife. His daughter, Rosa, is in her last year of college.

A CONVERSATION WITH THE AUTHOR:

Four dedicatees are named in The Trudeau Vector. I asked Mr. Jurjevics who these gentlemen are. "The first one is my godfather, whom I never met. He died in 1948 in Latvia, under an assumed name, hiding from the communists who had seized the country. The next three also are gentlemen I've not met -- Russian whistleblowers. They helped document and describe the irresponsible way their government disposed of nuclear waste, by scuttling ships with liquid waste aboard, by sinking obsolete subs with reactors intact, and so on.

"Russia has pretty much ignored any kind of restrictions or reasonable measures in dealing with their radioactive leftovers. They have steadily and secretly been dumping since the 1950s. Between 1964 and 1986, some 7000 tons of solid radioactive waste and 1600 cubic meters of liquid waste was pitched into the Kara and Barents Seas from the base in Murmasnk, which serviced the Soviet fleet of nuclear- powered naval and merchant ships. Likewise, nuclear reactors from at least 18 nuclear submarines and icebreakers were dumped in the Barents Sea, and an entire nuclear sub was deliberately sunk after an accident in May 1968. Another nuclear submarine, the Komsomolets, sank 300 miles off Norway with the loss of 42 sailors. It went down with two nuclear warheads. Finally, the Russians were dumping unprocessed nuclear waste into the Sea of Japan. As late as October 1993, the Russians confirmed that one of their ships discharged 900 tons of radioactive water from scrapped nuclear submarines. They simply fill up ships and barges with radioactive materials and sink them in the oceans, or discharge nuclear wastes into major rivers. They dump nuclear reactors with rods intact. They've abandoned sunken subs with nuclear missiles carrying plutonium warheads, ignoring the danger of its leaking out. Container drums with radioactive waste are pried open to help them sink. Tens of thousands of such have been tossed into the sea. Often in waters less than 3000 meters deep, meaning sea life may become polluted by the wastes and contaminated.

The Arctic Ocean is a particularly favored spot for dumping, but the Sea of Japan, the North Sea, the Norwegian Sea, the Kara, the White Sea, even the Baltic have been subjected to these disposals. In 1990 six million starfish, shellfish, seals, and porpoises washed up dead on the shores of the White Sea. Three years later seals in the White Sea and the Barents suffered outbreaks of blood cancers. So the contamination seems to be moving up the food chain. The three Russian dedicatees provided information about these activities, probably thinking it acceptable, given the new attitudes in their homeland toward openness. All three were imprisoned and charged with treason. The last one, Sutyagin, is still imprisoned, serving a 15-year sentence for no more than doing research. His trials were a travesty. You can make donations to support his family on PayPal from http://www.sutyagin.org/eng. "

"When were the men arrested?"

"Alexander Nikitin was arrested in 1996, Grigory Pasko in 1997. Igor Sutyagin received the heaviest penalty. He was arrested in 2001 and remains in prison."

"Do you contribute support?"

"Yes, and sign the letters to the Russian president, protesting, pleading.... So that's who the dedicatees are."

"What is the current state of these cases?"

"The first two men are out: one acquitted, the other released after two and one half years. Both have gotten their passports back; both have won journalism awards. Sutyagin, however, is still jailed, still suffering. Not being a journalist probably doesn't help him to gain attention and support from outside Russia."

"A word is like a sparrow. Once set free, you cannot catch it again. How did you happen upon that for an epigram?"

"It was something a Russian general said. He ran part of Russia's secret biological warfare production. He was interviewed for an academic book entitled Anthrax that reviewed a 1979 outbreak in the Soviet Union. The authorities blamed the outbreak on bad meat sold by black marketers, whom they arrested and dealt with severely. By the way, the dynamic governor of the region who oversaw the cover-up was Boris Yeltsin. But the truth was that someone had failed to replace a filter in a plant producing weaponized anthrax. Inhalational anthrax is rare and terribly deadly (and doesn't originate in spoiled meat). And so the filter wasn't there, and wind carried the lethal microbes out to the population. The carrier, the vector, in that instance was the wind. Sleeping citizens downwind inhaled the organisms, and a great many died. Inhaled anthrax is particularly vile and lethal. We've had one or two cases in the U.S., and if it's not fatal it's utterly debilitating for the rest of one's life."

"When people ask you what makes a book a thriller, what do you tell them?"

"Plot. I think it's primarily story. The thrillers that are enticing, the ones that are real classics, seem to also have some kernel of cosmic truth and a lot of unrecorded history -- things we haven't been told, things that will never be proven. Like LeCarre's novels, Len Deighton's. Theses novels were psychologically and literally very realistic.

"Neville Shute's On the Beach is another exemplary thriller. It's almost perfect. It's so slight and utterly amazing how much it attempts, how efficient it is; what an impact it delivers."

"How long have there been thrillers?"

"Most people say it goes back to the Cold War era, but there are thrillers set before that. For a while the British almost had a monopoly on the great ones. There are thrillers set throughout the Second World War era. Something covert, something hidden, is what a thriller is about.

"Structurally, a thriller has elements you'd also find in mystery or suspense fiction. Plot points, for instance, the bits of business that create a dramatic pace, the twists and turns and revelations -- the dynamics of secrets. But the end isn't finding who done it as much as what the secret is."

Most of The Trudeau Vector takes place within the walls of the Trudeau Research Center. The center is almost Edenic. Everything civilized man or woman might want is there -- laboratory equipment, books, music, comfortable beds, perfect food, and the latest in exercise equipment. However, deep inside this Arctic Eden a bad seed hides.

"The station was inspired by B.F. Skinner's Walden II," Mr. Jurjevics explained. "It was about a utopia. Mine is full of gadgets and researchers and scientists. Amazingly, the Canadians froze a ship into the ice last year that is a floating laboratory, similar in aspirations to Arctic Research Station Trudeau. Fiction come to life."

"As I read The Trudeau Vector, I began to think that you began with a utopia that became an ectopia."

"Yeah, exactly right. It's totally dedicated to good, to knowledge. It has attracted the finest people in their fields, and unbeknownst to them it includes an unknown problem they weren't aware of. It's not of their doing, but it's acting upon them, changing their idealistic paradise, changing their lives."

"The Trudeau Vector is also a Genesis story -- the Fall of Adam, and all that goes with that."

"Right. Yes, it echoes through myths and kid stories we learn about in the course of the book and in the various cultures the story touches on, whether Inuit or Russian or American. It's in the main story too. They've created this perfect and spectacular place in a frozen hell, where they want only to do good.

"Most societies drive toward some ideal. I've always been fascinated with how the Nazis were so idealistic. The communists less so, but the dedicated among them believed as mightily as did the Nazis. Beyond the immediate borders of the Workers' Paradise, their utopia had perhaps an even greater romantic appeal. The democracies have great idealism at their cores as well, even in militaristic times. Idealism is part of every ideology's engine. It's common even to rival ideologies that have been bested and proven bankrupt. Too often, though, it's window dressing that's meant to mesmerize and sell the product. That's the danger in The Trudeau Vector. Because you can, with all the good intention in the world -- as history keeps demonstrating -- wind up producing quite a mess, regardless of sincerity."

The victims of the Trudeau vector have lost the iris in their eyes. I asked how Mr. Jurjevics came up with this.

"I needed something to demonstrate how vicious and effective the killing agent was. As I did my research, I came across an unusual red tide that was found and studied by two scientists who employed microscopes, naturally enough. The organism turned out to be particularly devastating. It attacked their eyes, blinded them first, gained entry that way, and eventually killed them both, slowly. I was very struck by their story and thought a variation on it would be effective in the story. I also wanted it as an example of the risks these scientists run and what they are prepared to sacrifice for their research."

"How did you replicate so perfectly the cold that a person reading this feels cold?"

"I'd experienced extraordinarily cold situations a couple of times, and quite often in the mountains in the Adirondacks, where my parents lived, where in winter it's not unusual for the temperature to fall to 40 below. Of course, you're clothed and protected, but you soon notice you've started drooling from the dryness, and if you expose any skin it becomes instantly numbed and then painful. If there's any wind it's nearly debilitating. You almost can't make your muscles work to walk forward if you are inadequately clothed. The pain is paralyzing. The cold will absolutely render pain over large parts of your body very, very quickly. And there's not room for a thought in your head, just a primal scream to escape the cold. It's like drowning. All you want is out."

"Why did you want to set the book in such an extreme place?"

"I thought, given my day job and parenting, it would take me a long time to write. So I needed a static location. I'd always been interested in the Arctic. So I thought, 'Well, this is one place that isn't going to change. I won't have to worry about the setting moving around on me.'"

"You worked on this off and on for 25 years?"

"For 20, yes. And then intensely for the last three. But the Arctic refused to stay dormant. I woke up one day to discover a little fact floating up on the airwaves -- that the arctic had 'lost 40 percent of its volume.' Interesting way to put it. I thought, 'What can that mean?' Naturally, it meant exactly what they were saying, however obliquely, was that the Arctic Ocean ice that was ten feet thick when I started the novel was now six feet thick."

"How did you decide upon Jessie, your female 'lead?'"

It wasn't Jessie to begin with. The leads were two males at first. They didn't work and I killed off one and kept the funny one and wrote it all again. That was swell except he didn't work either. I tried a female finally. That worked. So I wrote it out a third time, with Jessie Hanley. She was a cross between Beatrix Potter and a woman I met for probably a whole hour one afternoon some years ago.

"I gave her sort of a rocky educational background. Made her not very gentrified or well credentialed. Given that, she just has to be very practical and directed when she goes to work on solving a problem. She's from the wrong side of the river, wrong side of the tracks. And she's fought her way through. She's very good at her job. That's what she relies on.

"She thinks fast, she's had to. She's a loner, which in most work situations is not so good, but in this case is perfect. Instead of having the usual lab resources and colleagues to fall back on, this time she has to go it alone. She has to get to the Arctic and deal with the threat to this world-class facility."

"She's also funny."

"Yeah, she's a wise ass. She's not polished and not terribly well turned out. What you see is what you get with her, which is a slowly impressive medical sleuth."

"How did you become interested in the Inuit?"

"I am sure it's because I come originally from a group so small that it is an endangered people, like the Inuit. I'm from Latvia. Except for a brief period of independence after WWI, it was always in the thrall of larger outside forces in the guise of occupying armies and their philosophies, or comparatively gigantic neighbors. So I'm very aware of the psychology of the small group living in the shadow of the enormous power that knew best for the natives. The last folks in Latvia were the Soviets. They made a concerted effort to permanently remove and liquidate Latvians and replace them with their own citizens. Tens of thousands of Letts were shipped off in cattle cars into the bowels of Russia, or killed outright.

"Allegedly the Russians (and every other nearby nation in the region) were after Latvia's warm-water ports in the Baltic. The Russians didn't really have any ports that weren't frozen solid for most of the winter. That's the purported reason. More likely, Latvia was a heavily forested, appealing place they wanted for themselves. I don't think it's been that big a factor in Russian strategic needs for a long time. I think it was more that they simply could have it, so why not."

"Who did the Latvians who were your parents' age dislike more, the Germans or the Russians?"

"I don't think they disliked either nationality more. In fact, they probably identified with both. They, as kids, had fled with their families into Tsarist Russia to avoid the effects of the First World War (and there had been a violent dress rehearsal for the Revolution in 1905 before that).

"So as little kids of ten or so, they were taken into Russia with their families, to get out of the way of what was coming. Little did they know they would live through the Russian Revolution instead. The Russians had always been welcoming and receptive to the Latvians. Being young kids, my parents quickly learned the language. They both became fluent. But the Latvians had been held for centuries under a feudal system by the Germans. So the manor owners, the great local landholders, were German. And my parents spoke German as well, just as fluently.

"They didn't have any feelings against either group really. They knew both intimately. My great-grandfather was a German baron. He fathered five girls with my great-grandmother but never married. He was a German aristocrat and she just a Latvian peasant. With each child, though, he gave her land, and so my great-grandmother had quite a holding after a while. Still, given all that and a lifetime together, when he died, family legend has it that she wasn't even permitted at his funeral. Anyway, the Latvians are a tiny group and very experienced at invisibility. The first time I heard about Inuit standing motionless for hours on ice floes, by breathing holes for hours, hunting, I thought of Latvians. They also practiced a kind of elimination of their aged who could no longer make their own way."

"Latvia is small."

"Very. It's tiny. According to the CIA's World Fact Book , it's a little larger than West Virginia. The population is 2.3 million, but just a little over half are Latvian. The second-largest group are Russian. Two-thirds of the capital city is populated by Russians."

"What was the population when you were born?"

"Nearly the same. This is not a place history has encouraged to produce a lot of progeny."

"And you left Latvia when you were?"

"A year old. As political options, neither the Germans nor the Russians appealed. One was as lethal as the other. And those were the only choices, other than flight. You were for or against or gone. We got out on a German hospital ship. I had pictured the boat crammed with civilians and wounded. But only two families managed to get on. The port was in flames. The war ended about six months later. We were displaced persons -- a nice term for homeless -- waiting for emigration quotas in camps in Germany."

The family -- Mr. Jurjevics, his mother, father, and sister -- arrived in the United States seven years later, in 1950. "We came straight to New York. To the Bronx. And later in beautiful South Bronx, then Pelham Bay. I went to public school until high school. It was in a little town north of New York -- in Westchester County, a Lutheran prep school called Concordia. And then I went, briefly and unsuccessfully, to a Lutheran college in the Midwest. Then bummed through four or five more colleges. I liked the English courses and nothing much else."

In 1966 Mr. Jurjevics was drafted. In 1967 he was sent to Vietnam. "I trained in the South, in Georgia, for half a year, and then went to Vietnam. We arrived on Valentine's Day of 1967. Gun-toting jeeps circled us on the tarmac. My friend, Jimmy Pearson, said, 'Just in time for the Massacre.' He was disappointed: Vietnam looked like Georgia, red clay and all."

How long was he in Vietnam?

"Fourteen months, 11 days, two hours. And then back to New York, where I lucked into a publishing job. I was hired by a terrific guy who was a Yippie. He was pale and long-haired. I was the color of toast and short haired. I typed contracts and filed copyright claims at a venerable publishing company, a mainline house -- Harper and Row. It's now called HarperCollins; it's about 175 years old."

"When you were a child, did your parents read to you?"

"Very little. We had few books. We were living in camps; there was very little printed material. One of my father's cobbled-together jobs was to show films on the sides of walls in the summer in these large courtyards. And he would hang up a sheet and run a movie. American films were probably my first entertainment. And one unforgettable stage performance in Latvian of Twelfth Night . But aside from a couple of American comic books provided by the American soldiers, there really wasn't much to read. I think there was one copy of Gone With the Wind and an occasional scary story. There were some fairy tales, some of them typically morbid and frightening. I have loathed the grim Brothers Grimm ever since.

"I didn't really experience children's books until I had my own child, when I finally got to savor Winnie the Pooh and Beatrix Potter (partially a model for the heroine in The Trudeau Vector, by the way)."

"When did you first start reading in English?"

" Dick and Jane. I vividly recall Dick and Jane and their extraordinary neighborhood, but most of all I remember Zeke. Zeke was the guy who raked the leaves. And then, when he had great mounds of them, he would set fire to the piles. Afterward, he would rake out potatoes hidden in the ashes, and the kids and Zeke would feast on the potatoes. Being half-starved for my first seven years and food-obsessed, that spoke to me much more than Dick and Jane themselves might. I never forgot Zeke. I dreamt about charred potatoes for a long time after.

"In grade school at someone's suggestion I started reading Hemingway. I'd had my Ivanhoe era and read the Black Knight, Black Arrow, Count of Monte Cristo, and I had a wooden sword that I practiced my Scaramouche moves with, and then I'd read some of the early mystery writers. I remember cutting wooden dowels into cigarette lengths and practicing smoking like they did in black-and-white movies. In the States, we went to shows every week: serials, triple features. By Saturday afternoon, every kid in the neighborhood was cross-eyed. Occasionally I'd get invited to somebody's house to watch television. The first thing I saw on our very own first TV set was the McCarthy hearings. I was allowed to stay home from school to watch them. I was absolutely mesmerized."

"The hearings would have been important to your parents, wouldn't they have?"

"Yes, I never knew which side they were on, McCarthy's or the other forces. I suspect McCarthy's. I think they were so traumatized and paranoid at having been pursued by Nazis and Chekists and all the air forces of the world, and every other kind of instant arbiter of one's life, that they were easily swayed by the suggestion of Reds under beds. Uniforms shook them, the red Christmas decorations in Macy's stunned them."

"What do you hope that people, when they finish your book, will think or feel?"

"I want them to realize that this black-and-white Arctic world is not so black-and-white or clear, that it's not what those from outside it think it is. I want readers to realize that the Arctic world is complicated and convoluted and rich, and that's exactly what makes it so splendid. Maybe that's the message: that you can't define the world so easily using your superior knowledge and technology. That it doesn't tame so easily."

"After the first few pages, there begins to set in a great sense of endangerment."

"Yes, the utopia comes apart very fast. Not only have three people perished mysteriously, the fourth victim seems to have removed all of his protective attire before dying and no one can really explain why. As for that fourth person, it took forever to collect all I needed to understand to get a sense of how this superbly trained person would experience his own demise under those conditions.

"That took some work. Sometimes I felt like I was dealing with one of those children's games of pick-up sticks. The pieces had to fit together undisturbed, and so exactly, given the nature of the station and its occupants."

"It must seem odd, having published so many books, finally to be published."

"Oh, utterly. And in ten countries, too. I've been fantasizing this since I was a teenager, and to have it visited upon me all at once at this late stage has made it great fun."

"I think people who have kept up on their Cold War history will find that the story is in many ways not fiction at all."

"It mostly isn't. There is so much fact in the novel; it is nearly nonfiction, yes. I wanted what my successful predecessors created in their books: a sense of reality, of secrets finally revealed."

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"I don't think it's just a fad"

The Trudeau Vector by Juris Jurjevics. Viking, 2005; 402 pages; $24.95.

FROM THE DUST JACKET:

As the international team of scientists at the spectacular Trudeau Research Center prepares for six months of unrelenting Arctic winter, three of their colleagues are found dead, their pupils missing, and their bodies contorted in ghastly, unnatural positions. An American epidemiologist, the talented and unconventional Dr. Jessica Hanley, is summoned to investigate the medical riddle posed by these grisly deaths. At the same time, a decorated Russian admiral in Moscow is assigned a top-secret mission to locate and retrieve a Russian submarine that has suddenly and inexplicably vanished from central command's radar. The die is cast. Their lives will cross in Jurjevics's engrossing debut thriller, brilliant and terrifying in its medical and historical accuracy. Hanley's inquiry and Admiral Rudenko's quest bring them up against hazards much bigger than microbes -- scientific megalomania, lingering cold war tensions, world-threatening environmental toxins, all unfolding in the unforgiving extremes of the Arctic.

A thriller that superbly depicts the precarious, volatile area where science and global politics can clash with disastrous results, The Trudeau Vector is reminiscent of the classic suspense of Frederick Forsyth's The Day of the Jackal and the terrifying realism of Michael Crichton's The Andromeda Strain. With its disquieting and revelatory authenticity, readers cannot help but fall under its spell and ask themselves, "Could this really happen?"

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

Publishers Weekly: Soho Press cofounder and publisher Jurjevics gives a knowing nod to apocalyptic plot expectations for biohazard thrillers, but the real passion of his debut lies in presenting difficult science clearly, creating complex characters, and playing Cassandra on the environment. Four members of Arctic Research Station Trudeau go missing: three of them turn up, still in their cold-weather suits, twisted into positions of inexplicably grotesque and agonizing death; the fourth lays nearby, naked and frozen solid.... Jurjevics's debut will lure those with a taste for deep science, medical intricacies, and a plot that twists and shines like the aurora borealis.

Kirkus Reviews: Jurjevics weaves his great fondness for the fragile, seductive, polar environment with carefully researched viral lore.... Offshore-educated M.D. Jessica Hanley, famous for her intuitive epidemiological solutions, draws the short stick when the call comes from the Trudeau Research Center, which houses a collection of scientists way up at the top of Canada.... Parachuted in at the last possible moment before the Center becomes unreachable in the months-long arctic night, Hanley deputizes a couple of assistants and starts sorting through every last personal belonging of the departed, looking for what must either be a very vicious bacterium, or a virus.... Hanley is one busy epidemiologist. But a good one. She has the culprit identified just as some very dashing Russians return to clean up the mess left by their dead colleague.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Juris Jurjevics was born in 1943 in Latvia and emigrated to the United States. He served in Vietnam and is the cofounder and publisher of Soho Press. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife. His daughter, Rosa, is in her last year of college.

A CONVERSATION WITH THE AUTHOR:

Four dedicatees are named in The Trudeau Vector. I asked Mr. Jurjevics who these gentlemen are. "The first one is my godfather, whom I never met. He died in 1948 in Latvia, under an assumed name, hiding from the communists who had seized the country. The next three also are gentlemen I've not met -- Russian whistleblowers. They helped document and describe the irresponsible way their government disposed of nuclear waste, by scuttling ships with liquid waste aboard, by sinking obsolete subs with reactors intact, and so on.

"Russia has pretty much ignored any kind of restrictions or reasonable measures in dealing with their radioactive leftovers. They have steadily and secretly been dumping since the 1950s. Between 1964 and 1986, some 7000 tons of solid radioactive waste and 1600 cubic meters of liquid waste was pitched into the Kara and Barents Seas from the base in Murmasnk, which serviced the Soviet fleet of nuclear- powered naval and merchant ships. Likewise, nuclear reactors from at least 18 nuclear submarines and icebreakers were dumped in the Barents Sea, and an entire nuclear sub was deliberately sunk after an accident in May 1968. Another nuclear submarine, the Komsomolets, sank 300 miles off Norway with the loss of 42 sailors. It went down with two nuclear warheads. Finally, the Russians were dumping unprocessed nuclear waste into the Sea of Japan. As late as October 1993, the Russians confirmed that one of their ships discharged 900 tons of radioactive water from scrapped nuclear submarines. They simply fill up ships and barges with radioactive materials and sink them in the oceans, or discharge nuclear wastes into major rivers. They dump nuclear reactors with rods intact. They've abandoned sunken subs with nuclear missiles carrying plutonium warheads, ignoring the danger of its leaking out. Container drums with radioactive waste are pried open to help them sink. Tens of thousands of such have been tossed into the sea. Often in waters less than 3000 meters deep, meaning sea life may become polluted by the wastes and contaminated.

The Arctic Ocean is a particularly favored spot for dumping, but the Sea of Japan, the North Sea, the Norwegian Sea, the Kara, the White Sea, even the Baltic have been subjected to these disposals. In 1990 six million starfish, shellfish, seals, and porpoises washed up dead on the shores of the White Sea. Three years later seals in the White Sea and the Barents suffered outbreaks of blood cancers. So the contamination seems to be moving up the food chain. The three Russian dedicatees provided information about these activities, probably thinking it acceptable, given the new attitudes in their homeland toward openness. All three were imprisoned and charged with treason. The last one, Sutyagin, is still imprisoned, serving a 15-year sentence for no more than doing research. His trials were a travesty. You can make donations to support his family on PayPal from http://www.sutyagin.org/eng. "

"When were the men arrested?"

"Alexander Nikitin was arrested in 1996, Grigory Pasko in 1997. Igor Sutyagin received the heaviest penalty. He was arrested in 2001 and remains in prison."

"Do you contribute support?"

"Yes, and sign the letters to the Russian president, protesting, pleading.... So that's who the dedicatees are."

"What is the current state of these cases?"

"The first two men are out: one acquitted, the other released after two and one half years. Both have gotten their passports back; both have won journalism awards. Sutyagin, however, is still jailed, still suffering. Not being a journalist probably doesn't help him to gain attention and support from outside Russia."

"A word is like a sparrow. Once set free, you cannot catch it again. How did you happen upon that for an epigram?"

"It was something a Russian general said. He ran part of Russia's secret biological warfare production. He was interviewed for an academic book entitled Anthrax that reviewed a 1979 outbreak in the Soviet Union. The authorities blamed the outbreak on bad meat sold by black marketers, whom they arrested and dealt with severely. By the way, the dynamic governor of the region who oversaw the cover-up was Boris Yeltsin. But the truth was that someone had failed to replace a filter in a plant producing weaponized anthrax. Inhalational anthrax is rare and terribly deadly (and doesn't originate in spoiled meat). And so the filter wasn't there, and wind carried the lethal microbes out to the population. The carrier, the vector, in that instance was the wind. Sleeping citizens downwind inhaled the organisms, and a great many died. Inhaled anthrax is particularly vile and lethal. We've had one or two cases in the U.S., and if it's not fatal it's utterly debilitating for the rest of one's life."

"When people ask you what makes a book a thriller, what do you tell them?"

"Plot. I think it's primarily story. The thrillers that are enticing, the ones that are real classics, seem to also have some kernel of cosmic truth and a lot of unrecorded history -- things we haven't been told, things that will never be proven. Like LeCarre's novels, Len Deighton's. Theses novels were psychologically and literally very realistic.

"Neville Shute's On the Beach is another exemplary thriller. It's almost perfect. It's so slight and utterly amazing how much it attempts, how efficient it is; what an impact it delivers."

"How long have there been thrillers?"

"Most people say it goes back to the Cold War era, but there are thrillers set before that. For a while the British almost had a monopoly on the great ones. There are thrillers set throughout the Second World War era. Something covert, something hidden, is what a thriller is about.

"Structurally, a thriller has elements you'd also find in mystery or suspense fiction. Plot points, for instance, the bits of business that create a dramatic pace, the twists and turns and revelations -- the dynamics of secrets. But the end isn't finding who done it as much as what the secret is."

Most of The Trudeau Vector takes place within the walls of the Trudeau Research Center. The center is almost Edenic. Everything civilized man or woman might want is there -- laboratory equipment, books, music, comfortable beds, perfect food, and the latest in exercise equipment. However, deep inside this Arctic Eden a bad seed hides.

"The station was inspired by B.F. Skinner's Walden II," Mr. Jurjevics explained. "It was about a utopia. Mine is full of gadgets and researchers and scientists. Amazingly, the Canadians froze a ship into the ice last year that is a floating laboratory, similar in aspirations to Arctic Research Station Trudeau. Fiction come to life."

"As I read The Trudeau Vector, I began to think that you began with a utopia that became an ectopia."

"Yeah, exactly right. It's totally dedicated to good, to knowledge. It has attracted the finest people in their fields, and unbeknownst to them it includes an unknown problem they weren't aware of. It's not of their doing, but it's acting upon them, changing their idealistic paradise, changing their lives."

"The Trudeau Vector is also a Genesis story -- the Fall of Adam, and all that goes with that."

"Right. Yes, it echoes through myths and kid stories we learn about in the course of the book and in the various cultures the story touches on, whether Inuit or Russian or American. It's in the main story too. They've created this perfect and spectacular place in a frozen hell, where they want only to do good.

"Most societies drive toward some ideal. I've always been fascinated with how the Nazis were so idealistic. The communists less so, but the dedicated among them believed as mightily as did the Nazis. Beyond the immediate borders of the Workers' Paradise, their utopia had perhaps an even greater romantic appeal. The democracies have great idealism at their cores as well, even in militaristic times. Idealism is part of every ideology's engine. It's common even to rival ideologies that have been bested and proven bankrupt. Too often, though, it's window dressing that's meant to mesmerize and sell the product. That's the danger in The Trudeau Vector. Because you can, with all the good intention in the world -- as history keeps demonstrating -- wind up producing quite a mess, regardless of sincerity."

The victims of the Trudeau vector have lost the iris in their eyes. I asked how Mr. Jurjevics came up with this.

"I needed something to demonstrate how vicious and effective the killing agent was. As I did my research, I came across an unusual red tide that was found and studied by two scientists who employed microscopes, naturally enough. The organism turned out to be particularly devastating. It attacked their eyes, blinded them first, gained entry that way, and eventually killed them both, slowly. I was very struck by their story and thought a variation on it would be effective in the story. I also wanted it as an example of the risks these scientists run and what they are prepared to sacrifice for their research."

"How did you replicate so perfectly the cold that a person reading this feels cold?"

"I'd experienced extraordinarily cold situations a couple of times, and quite often in the mountains in the Adirondacks, where my parents lived, where in winter it's not unusual for the temperature to fall to 40 below. Of course, you're clothed and protected, but you soon notice you've started drooling from the dryness, and if you expose any skin it becomes instantly numbed and then painful. If there's any wind it's nearly debilitating. You almost can't make your muscles work to walk forward if you are inadequately clothed. The pain is paralyzing. The cold will absolutely render pain over large parts of your body very, very quickly. And there's not room for a thought in your head, just a primal scream to escape the cold. It's like drowning. All you want is out."

"Why did you want to set the book in such an extreme place?"

"I thought, given my day job and parenting, it would take me a long time to write. So I needed a static location. I'd always been interested in the Arctic. So I thought, 'Well, this is one place that isn't going to change. I won't have to worry about the setting moving around on me.'"

"You worked on this off and on for 25 years?"

"For 20, yes. And then intensely for the last three. But the Arctic refused to stay dormant. I woke up one day to discover a little fact floating up on the airwaves -- that the arctic had 'lost 40 percent of its volume.' Interesting way to put it. I thought, 'What can that mean?' Naturally, it meant exactly what they were saying, however obliquely, was that the Arctic Ocean ice that was ten feet thick when I started the novel was now six feet thick."

"How did you decide upon Jessie, your female 'lead?'"

It wasn't Jessie to begin with. The leads were two males at first. They didn't work and I killed off one and kept the funny one and wrote it all again. That was swell except he didn't work either. I tried a female finally. That worked. So I wrote it out a third time, with Jessie Hanley. She was a cross between Beatrix Potter and a woman I met for probably a whole hour one afternoon some years ago.

"I gave her sort of a rocky educational background. Made her not very gentrified or well credentialed. Given that, she just has to be very practical and directed when she goes to work on solving a problem. She's from the wrong side of the river, wrong side of the tracks. And she's fought her way through. She's very good at her job. That's what she relies on.

"She thinks fast, she's had to. She's a loner, which in most work situations is not so good, but in this case is perfect. Instead of having the usual lab resources and colleagues to fall back on, this time she has to go it alone. She has to get to the Arctic and deal with the threat to this world-class facility."

"She's also funny."

"Yeah, she's a wise ass. She's not polished and not terribly well turned out. What you see is what you get with her, which is a slowly impressive medical sleuth."

"How did you become interested in the Inuit?"

"I am sure it's because I come originally from a group so small that it is an endangered people, like the Inuit. I'm from Latvia. Except for a brief period of independence after WWI, it was always in the thrall of larger outside forces in the guise of occupying armies and their philosophies, or comparatively gigantic neighbors. So I'm very aware of the psychology of the small group living in the shadow of the enormous power that knew best for the natives. The last folks in Latvia were the Soviets. They made a concerted effort to permanently remove and liquidate Latvians and replace them with their own citizens. Tens of thousands of Letts were shipped off in cattle cars into the bowels of Russia, or killed outright.

"Allegedly the Russians (and every other nearby nation in the region) were after Latvia's warm-water ports in the Baltic. The Russians didn't really have any ports that weren't frozen solid for most of the winter. That's the purported reason. More likely, Latvia was a heavily forested, appealing place they wanted for themselves. I don't think it's been that big a factor in Russian strategic needs for a long time. I think it was more that they simply could have it, so why not."

"Who did the Latvians who were your parents' age dislike more, the Germans or the Russians?"

"I don't think they disliked either nationality more. In fact, they probably identified with both. They, as kids, had fled with their families into Tsarist Russia to avoid the effects of the First World War (and there had been a violent dress rehearsal for the Revolution in 1905 before that).

"So as little kids of ten or so, they were taken into Russia with their families, to get out of the way of what was coming. Little did they know they would live through the Russian Revolution instead. The Russians had always been welcoming and receptive to the Latvians. Being young kids, my parents quickly learned the language. They both became fluent. But the Latvians had been held for centuries under a feudal system by the Germans. So the manor owners, the great local landholders, were German. And my parents spoke German as well, just as fluently.

"They didn't have any feelings against either group really. They knew both intimately. My great-grandfather was a German baron. He fathered five girls with my great-grandmother but never married. He was a German aristocrat and she just a Latvian peasant. With each child, though, he gave her land, and so my great-grandmother had quite a holding after a while. Still, given all that and a lifetime together, when he died, family legend has it that she wasn't even permitted at his funeral. Anyway, the Latvians are a tiny group and very experienced at invisibility. The first time I heard about Inuit standing motionless for hours on ice floes, by breathing holes for hours, hunting, I thought of Latvians. They also practiced a kind of elimination of their aged who could no longer make their own way."

"Latvia is small."

"Very. It's tiny. According to the CIA's World Fact Book , it's a little larger than West Virginia. The population is 2.3 million, but just a little over half are Latvian. The second-largest group are Russian. Two-thirds of the capital city is populated by Russians."

"What was the population when you were born?"

"Nearly the same. This is not a place history has encouraged to produce a lot of progeny."

"And you left Latvia when you were?"

"A year old. As political options, neither the Germans nor the Russians appealed. One was as lethal as the other. And those were the only choices, other than flight. You were for or against or gone. We got out on a German hospital ship. I had pictured the boat crammed with civilians and wounded. But only two families managed to get on. The port was in flames. The war ended about six months later. We were displaced persons -- a nice term for homeless -- waiting for emigration quotas in camps in Germany."

The family -- Mr. Jurjevics, his mother, father, and sister -- arrived in the United States seven years later, in 1950. "We came straight to New York. To the Bronx. And later in beautiful South Bronx, then Pelham Bay. I went to public school until high school. It was in a little town north of New York -- in Westchester County, a Lutheran prep school called Concordia. And then I went, briefly and unsuccessfully, to a Lutheran college in the Midwest. Then bummed through four or five more colleges. I liked the English courses and nothing much else."

In 1966 Mr. Jurjevics was drafted. In 1967 he was sent to Vietnam. "I trained in the South, in Georgia, for half a year, and then went to Vietnam. We arrived on Valentine's Day of 1967. Gun-toting jeeps circled us on the tarmac. My friend, Jimmy Pearson, said, 'Just in time for the Massacre.' He was disappointed: Vietnam looked like Georgia, red clay and all."

How long was he in Vietnam?

"Fourteen months, 11 days, two hours. And then back to New York, where I lucked into a publishing job. I was hired by a terrific guy who was a Yippie. He was pale and long-haired. I was the color of toast and short haired. I typed contracts and filed copyright claims at a venerable publishing company, a mainline house -- Harper and Row. It's now called HarperCollins; it's about 175 years old."

"When you were a child, did your parents read to you?"

"Very little. We had few books. We were living in camps; there was very little printed material. One of my father's cobbled-together jobs was to show films on the sides of walls in the summer in these large courtyards. And he would hang up a sheet and run a movie. American films were probably my first entertainment. And one unforgettable stage performance in Latvian of Twelfth Night . But aside from a couple of American comic books provided by the American soldiers, there really wasn't much to read. I think there was one copy of Gone With the Wind and an occasional scary story. There were some fairy tales, some of them typically morbid and frightening. I have loathed the grim Brothers Grimm ever since.

"I didn't really experience children's books until I had my own child, when I finally got to savor Winnie the Pooh and Beatrix Potter (partially a model for the heroine in The Trudeau Vector, by the way)."

"When did you first start reading in English?"

" Dick and Jane. I vividly recall Dick and Jane and their extraordinary neighborhood, but most of all I remember Zeke. Zeke was the guy who raked the leaves. And then, when he had great mounds of them, he would set fire to the piles. Afterward, he would rake out potatoes hidden in the ashes, and the kids and Zeke would feast on the potatoes. Being half-starved for my first seven years and food-obsessed, that spoke to me much more than Dick and Jane themselves might. I never forgot Zeke. I dreamt about charred potatoes for a long time after.

"In grade school at someone's suggestion I started reading Hemingway. I'd had my Ivanhoe era and read the Black Knight, Black Arrow, Count of Monte Cristo, and I had a wooden sword that I practiced my Scaramouche moves with, and then I'd read some of the early mystery writers. I remember cutting wooden dowels into cigarette lengths and practicing smoking like they did in black-and-white movies. In the States, we went to shows every week: serials, triple features. By Saturday afternoon, every kid in the neighborhood was cross-eyed. Occasionally I'd get invited to somebody's house to watch television. The first thing I saw on our very own first TV set was the McCarthy hearings. I was allowed to stay home from school to watch them. I was absolutely mesmerized."

"The hearings would have been important to your parents, wouldn't they have?"

"Yes, I never knew which side they were on, McCarthy's or the other forces. I suspect McCarthy's. I think they were so traumatized and paranoid at having been pursued by Nazis and Chekists and all the air forces of the world, and every other kind of instant arbiter of one's life, that they were easily swayed by the suggestion of Reds under beds. Uniforms shook them, the red Christmas decorations in Macy's stunned them."

"What do you hope that people, when they finish your book, will think or feel?"

"I want them to realize that this black-and-white Arctic world is not so black-and-white or clear, that it's not what those from outside it think it is. I want readers to realize that the Arctic world is complicated and convoluted and rich, and that's exactly what makes it so splendid. Maybe that's the message: that you can't define the world so easily using your superior knowledge and technology. That it doesn't tame so easily."

"After the first few pages, there begins to set in a great sense of endangerment."

"Yes, the utopia comes apart very fast. Not only have three people perished mysteriously, the fourth victim seems to have removed all of his protective attire before dying and no one can really explain why. As for that fourth person, it took forever to collect all I needed to understand to get a sense of how this superbly trained person would experience his own demise under those conditions.

"That took some work. Sometimes I felt like I was dealing with one of those children's games of pick-up sticks. The pieces had to fit together undisturbed, and so exactly, given the nature of the station and its occupants."

"It must seem odd, having published so many books, finally to be published."

"Oh, utterly. And in ten countries, too. I've been fantasizing this since I was a teenager, and to have it visited upon me all at once at this late stage has made it great fun."

"I think people who have kept up on their Cold War history will find that the story is in many ways not fiction at all."

"It mostly isn't. There is so much fact in the novel; it is nearly nonfiction, yes. I wanted what my successful predecessors created in their books: a sense of reality, of secrets finally revealed."

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