First edition cover (UK)
Set in the United States, an Islamic terrorist kidnaps nuclear scientists and steals radioactive material from a California nuclear power plant. When Detective Sergeant Ryder's wife is kidnapped along with nuclear scientists from the California power station where they all work, he sets out to find her. Facing resistance from within his own police department, he leaves his job and begins taking the law into his own hands. His son Jeff, a highway patrolman, and a few other trusted friends attempt to stop the terrorists from detonating home-built atomic bombs along California's fault lines, which would unleash massive earthquakes killing millions of people and destroying California's major cities.
The inspiration for the plot appears to be acknowledged by Maclean himself in his preface to the 1977 edition of the book where he describes his first experience of an earthquake while in California on 9 February 1971.
Maclean said in a 1975 interview he was working on a book where half California fell into the ocean. "It's called for 1982 when all the planets are in alignment," he said. "There are people who believe it. The more I get into it the more I believe it myself."
The book became a best seller.
- The Englishwoman playing away The Guardian 27 Oct 1977: 11
- Terrorists Take On California Irwin, Ben. Los Angeles Times 19 May 1978: h8.
- CRITIC AT LARGE: The Scot's Got Lots of Plots Champlin, Charles. Los Angeles Times 27 Feb 1975: g1.
- Best Sellers: FICTION NONFICTION FOOTNOTES New York Times 7 May 1978: BR12.
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