If I asked you to guess which journalist penned a spy thriller about a plot by al-Qaida to use WMD on New York City with plot points featuring a radical Pakistani scientist going to Baghdad to purchase some of Saddam's hidden radioactive surplus, and a young French-born disaffected Muslim scientist living in Canada working on a bio-weapon -- you probably wouldn't grab a list of the New York Times staff to look for suspects.
But it's true, as The Faithful Spy (Random House, $24.95, 334 pp.) by Timesman Alex Berenson proves: there is someone at the New York Times who knows who the REAL enemy is.
Berenson's hero is John Wells, a CIA agent who has penetrated al-Qaida. Wells's bosses are uncomfortable about him for a variety of reasons — he's been undercover for far too long, he converted to Islam while on assignment, and while his tactical information is good, he always seems a step behind the big strikes, like 9/11 and Madrid. Only his control agent, Jennifer Exley, is sure of his loyalty.
Berenson gets more mileage out of the maverick-agent-and-uncooperative-superiors plot than most, by giving both sides good reasons to be suspicious. And while the intellectual and spiritual conflicts of a Muslim hero confronting the fanatics of his own faith are not as rigorous as in Showtime's excellent TV series Sleeper Cell (a must-buy bargain DVD on Amazon.com), Berenson is a gifted storyteller and the plot rockets along irresistibly. The climax is particularly creepy and suspenseful. It will be a while before I sit next to a coughing person on public transportation without thinking of this book.
It's not the politics that are so interesting in Harlan Coben's latest thriller, Promise Me (Dutton, $26.95, 384 pp.) but the lack thereof. We are so conditioned by the mainstream media constantly pushing the Jersey girls, or grieving parents who have become Cindy Sheehan-style anti-war activists, that when we see characters in a popular entertainment like a 9/11 widow dating a man whose son is serving in Iraq, we brace for the expected onslaught of cheap shots at George W. Bush.
The father in question—Coben's reluctant hero, sports agent Myron Bolitar—does make the comment that his son's life is worth more to him than the freedom of 25 million strangers; but it's also pretty clear that his son takes a different view. Besides, the context of the comment is in a story about missing teenagers, how parents and concerned adults should be more worried about being aware than being the "cool adult," and just how far a parent would - and should - be willing to go to protect a child in danger.
Promise Me is a suspenseful, surprising, and emotionally engaging thriller that confirms Coben's reputation as the master of the plot twist, and of capturing middle class American life.
Another best-selling author's latest contains a subplot about the conflict between a soldier's personal desires and the pull of duty. The Lew Rockwell right will despise Jeffery Deaver's latest bestseller, The Cold Moon (Doubleday, $26.00, 401 pp.), featuring his modern Sherlock Holmes, quadriplegic forensics expert Lincoln Rhymes because Deaver reminds us that there is another philosophical dark side in the world that doesn't consider American foreign policy to even be attempting the right thing in the Middle East. Even that is probably more than I should reveal about Deaver's overly tricky, but wildly entertaining, plot about a series of killings with motives within motives.
You will have to suspend disbelief at the evil mastermind whose scheme is probably too complicated to even get off the ground; but the warm heart of this book, a female soldier struggling with the decision to re-enlist who calls service in Iraq "doing something good and important," gives it a memorable-- and politically incorrect-hook.
Speaking of politically incorrect, there's also the master of modern horror and suspense, Dean Koontz. On the surface, his latest blockbuster, The Husband (Bantam, $27, 416 pp.), is a ticking-clock page-turner about a middle class husband trying to rescue his wife from ruthless kidnappers who have illogically demanded an impossible ransom. Mitch Lafferty is a landscaper with $11,000 in the bank, and two days to come up with $2 million to save his wife.
The key to the kidnappers' interest in Mitch is his mysteriously wealthy brother. Having spent a few books demolishing the premises of Freudianism, Koontz uses this plot to explore what might happen if a couple of postmodern intellectual professors raised a family in strict accordance to the theories of B. F. Skinner.
As always, however, Koontz rejects environmental causes for evil and illustrates that no matter how horrible the circumstances, human beings make choices that only they are responsible for. Whether it's a garden-variety psycho or a Hezbollah suicide bomber, Dean Koontz is definitely NOT a root causes kind of guy.
Unlike most popular entertainment, where gratuitous asides and comments about the state of the world come from the Left, Koontz's are quite the opposite. Of course, you would expect no less from a guy who has dedicated his latest bestseller to frequent Frontpage contributor Wesley J. Smith.