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Sunday, July 25, 2010

Reading List: Foreign Influence

Thor, Brad. Foreign Influence. New York: Atria Books, 2010. ISBN 978-1-4165-8659-3.
Thanks to the inexorable working of Jerry Pournelle's Iron Law of Bureaucracy, government agencies, even those most central to the legitimate functions of government and essential to its survival and the safety of the citizenry, will inevitably become sclerotic and ineffective, serving their employees at the expense of the taxpayers. The only way to get things done is for government to outsource traditionally governmental functions to private sector contractors, and recent years have seen even military operations farmed out to private security companies.

With the intelligence community having become so dysfunctional and hamstrung by feel-good constraints upon their actions and fear of political retribution against operatives, it is only natural that intelligence work—both collection and covert operations—will move to the private sector, and in this novel, Scot Harvath has left government service to join the shadowy Carlton Group, providing innovative services to the Department of Defense. Freed of bureaucratic constraints, Harvath's inner klootzak (read the book) is fully unleashed. Less than halfway into the novel, here's Harvath reporting to his boss, Reed Carlton:

“So let me get this straight,” said the Old Man. “You trunked two Basque separatists, Tasered a madam and a bodyguard—after she kicked your tail—then bagged and dragged her to some French farmhouse where you threatened to disfigure her, then iceboarded a concierge, shot three hotel security guards, kidnapped the wife of one of Russia's wealthiest mobsters, are now sitting in a hotel in Marseille waiting for a callback from the man I sent you over there to apprehend. Is that about right?”
Never a dull moment with the Carlton Group on the job!

Aggressive action is called for, because Harvath finds himself on the trail of a time-sensitive plot to unleash terror attacks in Europe and the U.S., launched by an opaque conspiracy where nothing is as it appears to be. Is this a jihadist plot, or the first volley in an asymmetric warfare conflict launched by an adversary, or a terror network hijacked by another mysterious non-state actor with its own obscure agenda? As Harvath follows the threads, two wisecracking Chicago cops moonlighting to investigate a hit and run accident stumble upon a domestic sleeper cell about to be activated by the terror network. And as the action becomes intense, we make the acquaintance of an Athena Team, an all-babe special forces outfit which is expected to figure prominently in the next novel in the saga and will doubtless improve the prospects of these books being picked up by Hollywood. With the clock ticking, these diverse forces (and at least one you'll never see coming) unite to avert a disastrous attack on American soil. The story is nicely wrapped up at the end, but the larger mystery remains to be pursued in subsequent books.

I find Brad Thor's novels substantially more “edgy” than those of Vince Flynn or Tom Clancy—like Ian Fleming, he's willing to entertain the reader with eccentric characters and situations even if they strain the sense of authenticity. If you enjoy this kind of thing—and I do, very much—you'll find this an entertaining thriller, perfect “airplane book”, and look forward to the next in the series. A podcast interview with the author is available.

Posted at July 25, 2010 20:36