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Saturday, May 21, 2011

Reading List: Blowback

Thor, Brad. Blowback. New York: Pocket Books, 2005. ISBN 978-1-4516-0828-1.
This is the fourth in the author's Scot Harvath series, which began with The Lions of Lucerne (October 2010). In this novel, Harvath is involved in a botched takedown attempt against an al-Qaeda operative which, repeated endlessly on cable news channels, brings him and his superiors into the crosshairs of ambitious former first lady and carpetbagging Senator Helen Remington Carmichael, who views exposing Harvath and those who ordered the operation as her ticket to second place on the next Democratic presidential ticket.

As wise people do when faced with the flounderings of a wounded yet still dangerous superpower, Harvath gets out of Dodge and soon finds himself on the trail of a plot, grounded in the arcane science of paleopathology and dating from Hannibal's crossing of the Alps, which threatens a genocide of non-believers in the Dar al-Harb and unification of the Ummah under a new caliphate. Scientists have been disappearing, and as Harvath follows the trail of the assassin, he discovers the sinister thread that ties their work, performed in isolation, together into a diabolical scheme.

Harvath teams up with a plucky lady paleopathologist (Harvath's female companions seem to adapt to commando missions as readily as Doctor Who's to multiverse displacement) and together they begin to follow the threads which lead to an horrific plot based on a weapon of mass destruction conceived in antiquity which has slumbered for millennia in an ice cavern.

What more could you ask for? Politics, diseases in antiquity, ice mummies, evil geniuses in Swiss mountain redoubts (heh!), glider assaults, mass murder with the chosen protected by mass marketing, and a helicopter assault on a terrorist icon in a Muslim country—works for me!

This is a thriller, and it delivers the thrills in abundance. But this is Fourmilab, and you expect the quibbles, don't you? So here we go, and without spoilers! The Super Vivat motor-gliders used to assault the mountaintop are said in chapter 72 to be capable of retracting the propeller into the nose of the fuselage and retracting and extending their landing gear. Neither is correct—the propeller can be feathered but not retracted, and the landing gear is fixed.

This is a page-turner, and it succeeds at its mission and will send you off to read the next in the series. The solution to the chaos in the Islamic world advanced here by the bad guys is, in fact, one I've been thinking about as less worse than most of the alternatives for more than decade. Could the “Arab Spring” give way to an “Ottoman Fall”? Let's talk Turkey.

Posted at May 21, 2011 23:36