What if post-Soviet Union Russia sent biological warfare missiles to the United States, only this time the missiles were animals infected with a virulent form of rickettsia? That's the premise behind this suspense-filled novel from one of Texas' best-known authors. Hunter Jacob Trace is peacefully trapping mountain lions miles away in the Big Bend when violent turbulence rocks a DC-10 on a cross-Atlantic flight. Just as Trace is unaware of the strange turns his life is about to take, the crew is unaware that three rare Siberian tigers in the hold, being sent to U.S. zoos in Houston, San Diego, and Seattle as part of a breeding program, have been jolted out of their cages. When one tiger makes its way to the cabin, the excitement and terror begin. The plane, unable to land in Houston because of bad weather, crashes in Corpus Christi Bay, its pilots killed by the tiger, its passengers terrified. Although many passengers survive the crash, including Arina Yeroskin, the Russian woman veterinarian accompanying the animals, the tigers are presumed dead. But are they?
First a tiger is sighted near Padre Island, then a man is killed on a river bottom near Aransas Pass. When a prize bull is slaughtered in Jim Wells County to the southeast, it's apparent the tiger is traveling far and fast--or is it a second tiger? Other incidents--a woman attacked in her home, a tiger invading a cantina--lead to widespread hysteria and a real concern about how many tigers are loose in South Texas and how many died in the plane crash. The North American Zoological Association hires Trace to stalk the tigers and capture them alive, but he's not the only one on the feline trail. Right-wing militia, convinced the tigers are part of a UN plot and spurred on by an anonymous benefactor, want to find and kill the tigers. Evelyn Price and Rand Morgan, representing NAZA, have their own agendas. Rand wants to capture the tigers to advance his career; Evelyn, passionate about animal rights, plots to free the cats. Eventually officials of the Mexican government are also in on the chase, hoping to kill the tigers and return their ashes to Russia for a reward. Only Arina Yeroskin and the reader know why the post-communist Russian government wants their prize animals dead, not alive. Even when survivors of tiger attacks die of "complications," one after the other, only Arina suspects that the tigers were infected to serve as biological weapons by right-wing scientists hoping to restore communism in Russia. The suspense of the tiger hunt is surpassed only by the spine-tingling terror of a tiger stalking its victim be it human or the tracking dogs that fall prey.