Existential Threats (Book 4 of The CIA International Thriller Series)
: R. Lawson
The CIA's incoming Director of Counter
Terrorism, Biff Roberts, is inheriting a multitude of challenges. For starters,
there is the existential threat of a nuclear Iran. Added to that, the Middle
East has become enmeshed in a surge of radical religious extremism ranging from
fanatical Muslims of the Islamic State to the Taliban, groups who commit
unspeakable atrocities using violence to pursue their atavistic goals. Syria’s
civil war could result in Assad's weapons of mass destruction getting into the
hands of the splintered groups of Islamic Jihadists fighting there. This
radical ideology has now spilled over into Africa with furious intensity.
And as if these international problems
were not enough imminent threats to confront, Iranian mullahs have issued an
Islamic death warrant fatwa on Biff, and those hoping to see it through are
chasing him to the ends of the Earth.
Things move closer to home when CIA
intelligence discovers that Iran has dispatched Mahmoud Abu Javari, the
notorious IED bomb maker to the U.S.
Biff now faces a Homeland threat of 9/11 proportions and has to thwart a
bomb plot in San Francisco without knowing the target or timing for the planned
act of terror.
I became interested in this book when I learned that it was a CIA international thriller. I am always a big fan of books that focus on federal agencies like the CIA, NCIS, and the FBI. This is my first time reading a book by R. Lawson, but I always enjoy trying out new books from authors that I have not previously read. When I stick with only authors I know things tend to become a bit predictable and boring. Existential Threats by R. Lawson opens with a table of contents, each chapter has its own title. I find that more and more authors are only using numbers for chapter titles, but I always enjoy that moment within a chapter when the chapter title makes sense.
The book opens with the main character Biff Roberts going on a skiing trip with Patricia and her children. The book at this point alternates between Biff and Patricia and two assassins trying to hit bill with a sniper rifle. The plan is to shoot him just as he begins to ski, but Biffs luck saves his life as the bullet misses any major organs. Biff's security team races to save the day then one time skip later and Biff is in the hospital dealing with a rude nurse.
This very fast pace beginning set the pace and plot for the entire book. I really like Biff as a character and I enjoyed R. Lawson's fast pace writing style and plot writing. The book was well written and I greatly enjoyed reading it.
I was sent a free copy of Existential Threats by R. Lawson for only a honest and unbiased review of the book.
R. Lawson is a retired vascular surgeon and served as a captain in the United States Air Force as a flight surgeon. With over 120 academic works under his belt, he moved into the fiction genre and began writing thrillers with a focus on terrorism, cyber spying, national security and more.
He hopes that you enjoy his CIA International Intrigue series featuring Biff Roberts, veteran CIA agent, as he travels the globe thwarting threats to the United States and its allies.
For More Information
- Existential Threats is
available at Amazon.
- Discuss this book at PUYB
Virtual Book Club at Goodreads.
The assassins hid behind a huge boulder above the timberline, giving
them an excellent view of the ski slopes below.
“In the red parka at the top of the Tofana piste,” the handler, Rashid,
said, spotting the target first. He spoke in Arabic with a distinctive
inflection, his calm voice belying his excitement. “Look to the right side
the slope. He’s just inside the tree line, leaning on his ski poles and
with the woman and her children. See him?”
Beside Rashid, Mustapha frowned as he peered through the scope of his
rifle. “Your binoculars have a wider field of view,” he complained. His
was foreign to Rashid, an African version of Arabic that fell heavily on
Rashid’s ears. In addition to disliking his accent, Rashid found Mustapha’s
facial tattoos—tribal markings apparently—distasteful. But Mustapha had
a reputation as a skilled shooter and he seemed dedicated to their mission.
“Big guy, blond hair,” Rashid said as he laid his Bushnell binoculars
on the hood of their snowmobile and pointed. “About six hundred meters
down to the right. Use my binoculars if you can’t spot him.”
“Okay, now I have him,” Mustapha said, grinning. “He’s much bigger
than I imagined, good target. But there’s a tree branch in the way
now. I’ll wait until he skis out to the first mogul, then I’ll have him in
Biff Roberts stopped at the top of the
Tofana run, enjoying the rest and
the magnificent early morning view of
Cortina below. The gondola had
dropped them off at over ten thousand
feet, and after traversing over
to the piste, they were even higher. It
was easy to get winded at this
“Let the youngsters go first, Patricia,”
Biff said. “I doubt we can match
“Okay, Biff,” Patricia said, smiling
warmly. Patricia DeBartola was
in her fifties, but Biff thought she
looked better than most women thirty
years younger. Like him, she kept herself
in great shape, another reason
Biff was enjoying a rare break from work
before the next big step in his
career. After four decades in the CIA, he
was about to take on his most challenging
role yet—as the head of Langley’s
Division. He was looking forward to
getting started, but first he wanted to
spend time with Patricia and get to know
her kids better.
“Watch out for ice on the downside of
moguls at this hour,” Patricia
told him. “It’s so easy to catch an edge
when you check and turn downhill.
And although it’s a black diamond run,
it’s really not too difficult if you
control your speed. That’s essential. Rest
if you start to tire.”
Patricia could see from Biff’s smile that
he didn’t mind her advice. But
she realized she might be overdoing it.
“Don’t do anything crazy trying to impress
me, okay?” She smiled to
try and hide her concern. “I know how you
Maybe I do worry too much, she thought. But she was an expert skier
and this was a challenging slope. Biff was
strong and athletic, and he’d
told her he could ski, but could he handle
this steep hill? She didn’t want
to jeopardize their holiday vacation with
an injury. In retrospect, maybe
she shouldn’t have brought him up here,
but the Tofana chute was her
children’s favorite run, and the view was
absolutely spectacular. She would
just have to watch him closely.
“You got it, lady,” Biff said. “I promise
to take it nice and easy.” Biff
didn’t want her worrying about him today.
Biff’s work meant he was
often in danger, but this was time to
relax and get to know her family
Patricia glanced at her daughter.
“Alessandra, I suggest you go first, in
case you fall. Your brothers will follow
to pick you up.”
Her daughter remained silent, not taking
“Right, Enzo and Donatello?” Patricia
added. “You’ll look out for your
baby sister? She might be a bit rusty.”
Alessandra had given birth last year
and missed the ski season. “Be sure to
keep a close eye on her, okay?”
“No problem, Mom,” Enzo replied without
hesitation, smiling widely.
Unlike his sister, Enzo appreciated his
mother’s sense of humor, which
was often half in jest, half in earnest.
“Same old predictable Mom, looking out for
her brood,” Donatello
said quietly beside Enzo. Donatello leaned
on his ski poles, raring to go.
They had both heard that refrain for
years, to look out for their baby
“Yeah, right, Mom,” Donatello said loudly.
“No problem.” He replied
like a good son should, no matter his age.
Their dad had disciplined
“Doubt we’ll keep up with her, though.
She’s definitely the
best downhiller in the family, maybe the
town,” Donatello reminded
her, as if she wasn’t cognizant of that
well-established fact after all these
‘Baby sister’ had been a top notch ski
instructor on this mountain
and the winner of many alpine competitions
before she married ten years
ago and started her family. Now the mother
of three, Alessandra still
had a cult-like following of aspirant
young female skiers in Cortina who
stopped her on the streets for her advice
on training exercises and hints
on succeeding in timed trials.
At Donatello’s remark, Alessandra just
politely smiled, shunning the
time-honored family banter, and pushed
off. She checked adroitly on the
first mogul and swiftly weaved her way
gracefully down the fall line, starting
the five-thousand-foot vertical descent to
the Dolomite village in the
Biff watched her glide effortlessly down
the steep slope, darting
through the moguls like a rabbit, changing
direction unpredictably but
“The whole scene is definitely like an
edited Warren Miller ski clip,”
Biff observed. “Good show.”
“She’s a talented skier,” Patricia
replied. She was clearly proud of her
family, especially her daughter, and
“She doesn’t look a bit rusty to me,” Biff
“She’s still got it at thirty, hasn’t lost
a move.” She nodded to her sons.
“OK, boys. Go catch her, if you can.”
Patricia laughed delightedly, realizing
she hadn’t been this happy in years. She
had been nervous about
having the kids meet Biff, but everything
was going wonderfully.
The brothers immediately set off after
their sister, laughing. They were
strong, athletic skiers but lacked their
sister’s grace as she short turned in
the fall line, taunting them to catch her.
“A classic display of sibling rivalry?”
Biff suggested. “You raised some
great kids, Patricia. Look at them go,
having a ball.”
“Thank you. This is always a big part of
our family New Year’s tradition.
They’re trying to make an impression. They
intend to test you out as
a prospective stepfather, so heads up.”
“Natural thing to do, I suppose.” Biff
smiled down at Patricia. “You
sure scored impressively with my family
last week.” Patricia had gone to
Arizona with him for Christmas
festivities. “You turned Caroline’s life
Patricia smiled, pleased. “She just needed
some motherly TLC. I
understand what she’s going through.”
“You gave her helpful insight, dear,” Biff
said. “It’s been a whirlwind
experience introducing our kids, judging
if they’ll accept our relationship.
Like you said, so far, so good.”
Less than a year ago, Biff’s wife and
childhood sweetheart, Mary Beth,
had been gunned down by an assassin, in
place of Biff. Many years ago,
Patricia’s husband, the Italian ambassador
to Israel, had been assassinated
by Hamas while visiting Gaza on a
peacekeeping mission. It was that
shared experience of traumatic grief that
had brought Biff and Patricia
together so quickly and so intensely. His
children, rather than angered at
his finding love again so soon, seemed to
understand all the more that life
was short and precious, and should be
lived to the fullest. Patricia’s kids
seemed to want the same happiness for
“We better catch up with them,” Patricia
said. “I see them waiting
downhill for us, joking around. Look,
they’re waving to us to come on.
Let’s go. Try and keep up.”
“Keep up with them?” He grinned. “You’ve
got to be kidding.”
“Well, let’s try and not let them out of sight.
You’re next, I’ll follow.”
She smiled, thrilled at the positive start
to their vacation and family
introductions. After her family tragedy,
she’d doubted if she’d ever be
deeply happy again. Yet in Biff, she’d
found someone to spend the rest
of her life with, someone who had
experienced a similar misfortune.
Empathy drew them together, and the whole
was greater than the parts
“Be patient,” Biff said. “It’s been a
while since I last skied at Tahoe.
And I’m not in your kids’ class, believe
me. But it’s just like riding a bike,”
he added, smiling. He took off, bouncing
off the first mogul, trying to
imitate her kids’ skillful execution of a
check turn and hot-dogging it.
Despite Patricia’s warning, he immediately
caught an edge on the
mogul’s icy downhill side. Biff lost his
balance and began to fall.
His fall was a fortunate event as it
turned out. Just as he began to slip, a
.223 caliber bullet ripped through his
left shoulder, sending red fragments
of his insulated parka flying. Groaning in
pain, he crashed head over heels
downhill between the steep moguls.
Patricia noted the muffled sound of a
gunshot fired through a suppressor
from uphill an instant before Biff fell.
Despite the silencer, the rifle’s
resonance followed instantly through the
clear mountain atmosphere. She
had heard that unforgettable “bap” sound
before, and her years of association
with Mossad conditioned her response. She
glanced furtively uphill
at the ridge. She saw no one, but
suspected more incoming fire.
Had the shot caused Biff’s awkward spill?
It all happened too quickly
“Biff!” she called as she immediately
skied to his assistance, not fearing
exposing herself to danger. He could be
shot, and she had to help him.