Be Fire Next Time

Wildfire
Nelson DeMille

wild_fireWhat should we make of best-selling books bearing  cautionary author’s notes?

Under other circumstances I might not be diverted to pondering such a question. But the 45th President of the United States was sworn in the other day and he pledged to “unite the civilized world” in removing “radical Islamic terrorism…from the face of the earth”

Could this notorious non-reader have read this particular book? After all,  our scribe tells us before starting his tale, that sometimes truth is stranger than fiction.

This tale once again reunites us with John Corey who featured in a number of other DeMille books. Corey is a retired NYPD detective who finds himself working on the Federal Anti-Terrorism Task Force (ATTF). In reality there is no such thing but there is a joint task force that serves much the same purpose–putting members of competing law enforcement agencies on the same team in the hope of better results.

I bet the people who dream these things up think competition is the problem.

DeMille pens a one-man I love New York campaign. This time, we visit the Adirondacks.

DeMille pens a one-man I love New York campaign. This time, we visit the Adirondacks.

There’s a long-standing tradition in crime books, movies and TV shows of antagonism between the local gendarmes and the Fibbies. That’s the standard lingo for the FBI. The New York version always ladles in a healthy dose of bad attitude and loose lips.

Corey could teach a master class in how to hold massive contempt and never miss an opportunity to share it.  Borderline insubordinate under the best of circumstances, he’s never more motivated than when he believes the workings of the FBI–he would probably say the career-building of FBI agents–puts lives at risk. Then he becomes that American archetype, the lone gunslinger meting out justice.

As I’ve said before, this genre works best when there’s a sidekick, someone to explain everything to. A couple of volumes back Corey picked up a live-in version–Kate Mayfield, his wife and colleague on the ATTF. Just to make it interesting, Kate is an FBI agent.  The possibility of conflicted loyalties has been front and center ever since.

Our heroes spend a lot of time driving on roads that must look like this one near Potsdam, NY, a locale they visit.

Our heroes spend a lot of time driving on roads that must look like this one near Potsdam, NY, a locale they visit.

At the outset, though, the Coreys seem almost irrelevant.  The plot focuses on another task force member, Harry Muller. Harry is also a retired NYPD officer and when we meet him he’s off for a weekend surveillance mission in the far off Adirondack mountains.

Harry can’t really explain his mission and it quickly goes wrong. The place he’s been sent is not a country cabin but an armed camp and he quickly triggers an alarm. That puts him in front of Bain Madox a Fortune 500 CEO with a penchant for freelancing national security issues.

This is the most tedious part of the whole book.  For 150 pages or so we have to listen to bad geopolitical blather about the existential threat the Islamic world presents to the United States . Mr. Madox, you see, runs a sort of secret Trilateral Commission of like minded souls, some in high government positions, who have a simple solution.

How the other half lives. The Vanderbilt's, ahem, "camp" in the Adirondacks, now a luxury hotel. The actin takes place at a newly-built place much like this.

How the other half lives. The Vanderbilt’s, ahem, “camp” in the Adirondacks, now a luxury hotel. The action takes place at a newly-built manse much like this without a lake.

This is where ten year old fiction starts to sound uncomfortably familiar. There is a top-secret government protocol for dealing with a WMD attack by Islamic terrorists in the US and it’s an old standby: MAD, less one letter.

You may remember we took a look at the logic behind MAD.  The updated protocol, code-named Wild Fire, triggers an immediate nuclear response against a wide-enough swath of the Islamic world to effectively create an Islam-free planet. Our commissioners think this is a good thing, they just need an appropriate triggering incident. Let’s not forget that our chief bad guy is a CEO. The triggering incident is in the bag.

There’s just one problem and that’s Harry. Corey knows where Harry’s been detailed, the gist of his official orders and when he’s due back. And so, while Harry is being schooled in the geopolitics of rich and powerful madmen by the chief nut, the Coreys are spending the weekend on the North Fork. It’s a nice break before they spend less than 48 hours traversing the Northern third of New York State in search of Harry.

If you're going to start a nuclear war having a private air force to transport orphaned (okay, purchased) nukes is convenient.

If you’re going to start a nuclear war having a private air force to transport orphaned (okay, purchased) nukes is convenient.

How do I say this kindly? Fiction isn’t always bound by the logic of real life. But the further an author stretches credulity the greater the risk of losing the reader no matter how artful the telling.

So as our heroes discover the unpleasant truth of what’s happened to their friend and make the acquaintance of the psychotic captain of industry bent on his own vision of saving the world, I found myself thinking of my Uncle Walter. I remember him saying, I think it was about Arthur Hailey‘s Wheels, “You really believe this guy grew up in the car business.”

I honestly wonder whether DeMille wore a watch when he visited the Adirondacks. I’m pretty sure he visited the area because his description of the public spaces and a particular room at  a resort called The Point are incredibly accurate–at least as far as I can tell from the website.

The Point, Saranac Lake, New York. These are some pretty fancy digs for a couple of Federal agents. Best selling authors can probably afford it.

The Point, Saranac Lake, New York. These are some pretty fancy digs for a couple of Federal agents. Best selling authors can probably afford it.

Still, Adirondack Park is the size of Massachusetts and the Coreys run in 70 mile plus circles that chew up time on the interstate let alone 2-lane roads. If they have a fix that gets past the laws of physics they should be running seminars not drawing sidearms.

On the whole, that’s a small complaint. It’s a typical DeMille story which means, the already mentioned lecture section aside, the tale moves. There’s plenty of Corey’s wiseass remarks and enough trouble with respecting authority to keep me happy.

I’m not going any further into the plot because I don’t want to spoil it. But back to that author’s note. DeMille is not sure a plan like Wild Fire exists, but if it doesn’t he thinks it should.

Here’s where he and I part ways. I just hope the incoming administration has thought beyond the unthinkable.

 

 

 

 

 

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