Sins of the Assassin
Scribners, $24.95, 400
As if I needed another reason why I'm glad to not be
Canadian — besides its health system — it turns out I would likely run
afoul of the ironically named "Canadian Human Rights Commission."
Like the incomparable Mark Steyn, I gave a rave review to
Robert Ferrigno's Prayers for the Assassin, an enormously
entertaining speculative suspense novel. Who knew that could be prima facie
evidence of a hate crime in the Great White North?
Most readers of this column know the Canadian Human Rights
Commission is persecuting Steyn, a noted columnist and blogger. What's not so
well known is that the complaint filed against Steyn points out he gave a good review
to Ferrigno's novel,
supposedly a "known Islamophobic
book." In doing so, it is alleged, Steyn violated the complainants' "sense of
dignity and self-worth."
This concerns me, as my first positive review of a novel
after joining up in January 2006 was a rave review
, a darkly satiric and suspenseful actioner about a future in
which most of America is governed as an Islamic republic after a terrorist
nuclear attack and a brutal civil war.
Now, I'm about to become a repeat offender by reporting
that Sins of the Assassin,
Ferrigno's sequel to Prayers, is just as much fun, every bit as
thought-provoking -- and potentially inflammatory -- as the first book in his
So, until I find out if this free-speech-squelching outfit
goes after only Canadians, I better avoid a couple of nearby border bridges to
Ontario and hope that Michigan's ultra-liberal Canadian-born governor doesn't
have an extradition agreement with the "Human Rights" Commission.
In Ferrigno's futuristic scenario, a decadent and
spiritually moribund America is seduced by Islam's "bright light and clear
answer" after acts of nuclear terrorism that level New York and Washington,
D.C., are falsely blamed on Israel.
At the 21st century's mid-point, the Islamic States of
America dominates the former U.S. territory, but it's not quite strong enough to
conquer the Bible Belt, which roughly comprises the states of the old
It turns out a considerable amount of pre-Islamic
America's spiritual and moral decline was due to not only the nuclear
strike but also the machinations of a wahhabist Saudi zillionaire known as The
"It had been his money, filtered through numerous fronts,
that had financed the think tanks and jihadi legal defense teams … all the
useful idiots. It had been his money that had funded politicians and religious
figures, compliant judges and radical journalists, billions of dollars in
honoraria, with presidential libraries and foundations in particular targeted.
That was the carrot. … There was also the stick. Hard-line military leaders
discredited. Evangelicals mocked. Curious investigators framed or fired. Or
But domestic spiritual decline was only half the cause.
America also was weakened by those who held the idea of projecting power to
protect liberty in contempt. In Ferrigno's future, the mainstream media's
undermining of the Iraq War was a key turning point:
"The U.S. Military won every battle, but they had no
voice, no message that could be heard. The Old One's servants monitored every TV
station and never saw a hero, only the dead. A war without heroes, without
victories. Only petty atrocities inflated for all the world to see, clucked over
by millionaire news anchors and fatuous movie stars. Their president himself
apologized. We must show that we are more humane than the terrorists, he said.
As though the wolf should apologize for having sharper teeth than the rabbit.
Good fortune beyond the Old One's wildest dreams, an enemy who wanted to be
loved. Be ashamed of the war and soon you will be ashamed of the warriors — the
warriors got that message soon enough."
But Sins of the Assassin is an adventure yarn, not
a polemic. And while the scenarios Ferrigno invents are the most fun to
talk about, it is the white-knuckle action, unpredictable plot twists and
engaging (and sinister) characters that make the novel such fun to
Rakkim Epps, a scientifically enhanced superwarrior from a
unit known as Fedayeen, is the hero of the series. Rakkim has sworn loyalty to
the moderate Muslim president of the ISA but is doubtful of his professed faith.
Rakkim once did a long undercover stint in the Bible Belt and is attracted to
the measure of individual freedom he found there (and the food).
His new assignment is to penetrate the Bible Belt and
discover what a charismatic character known as the Colonel is digging for in the
Smoky Mountains with the help of a Fedayeen defector named Moseby (the first of
many historical allusions for history buffs).
Along for the ride is Leo, a teenaged techno-geek whose
job is to evaluate whether the Colonel has uncovered a doomsday device hidden by
the U.S. military as the old order fell apart. This sets up an entertaining
personal dynamic not unlike that in last summer's Bruce Willis movie, Live
Free or Die Hard, as the team navigates through some really rough situations
in the back woods.
Thirty years of war and stalemate have radicalized many of
the militias, and bandits roam the hill country. The extremely weak
central government is holding on by letting Chinese and Brazilian corporations
pillage the South's natural resources. Nonetheless, the secular-minded Leo and
the increasingly skeptical Rakkim are still impressed by the high degree of
personal autonomy the Southerners enjoy, thanks in large part to the nature of
their Christian faith —though more radical charismatic offshoots are becoming
the order of the day.
Unfortunately, Rakkim discovers too late that his
divide-and-conquer scheme to secure the Colonel's discovery has, in effect, set
the modern equivalent of Quantrill against a Robert E. Lee-like figure who might
be the key to re-uniting America into a single country again.
Meanwhile, back in the ISA, the Old One is preparing to
make a comeback after his bitter defeat by Rakkim and his wife Sarah in
Prayers. Even in a constitutionally "moderate" Islamic state, a takeover
by radical Islamists seems to never be more than one bullet away.
Second books in trilogies are always the trickiest, but
Sins is even more seamlessly written than Prayers even if it
doesn't have quite the "WOW!" factor you get from your first introduction to
Ferrigno's fascinating vision.
Novels about future dystopias are generally a pretty glum
group, but the Assassin novels ultimately are remarkably optimistic.
Beneath the war, disaster and a divide that makes the Civil War look like a
family squabble, Ferrigno has faith that Americanism and the American spirit
would survive and not allow itself to lie on the ash heap of
When we first meet Rakkim, he reminds us of Martin Cruz
Smith's Arkady Renko, a principled Russian cop who's the hero of Gorky Park
-- a foreigner whose quest for justice while serving a tyrannical regime
makes us cheer. By the end of Sins, we realize Rakkim is brilliant twist
on the outwardly cynical but ultimately heroic and idealistic American
Ferrigno, the author of eight splendid Southern California
noirish crime thrillers, says he plans only a trilogy in the Assassins
series. However, I think fans would agree Rakkim Epps
has the potential for a more enduring run.
Rapping the Ayatollah
Speaking of American tough guys, Mitch Rapp is back in
Vince Flynn's latest Protect and Defend
(Atria, $26.95), and he's taking on Iran in ways that cause great consternation
among D.C. liberals and the kind of obstructionist bureaucrats Ken Timmerman
calls "shadow warriors."
Protect and Defend is Flynn's best book in a while,
as Rapp, America's favorite dog of war, is unleashed on Islamist terrorists on
foreign soil — or, actually, he slips his leash.
After a saboteur spectacularly destroys the Iranian
nuclear program that doesn't exist, a new liberal president is suckered into
sending CIA chief Irene Kennedy, Rapp's mentor, to a secret "peace" meeting with
"moderate" Iranian forces. When Kennedy is kidnapped in a daring rogue operation
engineered by Iranian President Ahmadinejad — oops, I mean Amahtullah — Rapp
knows America will have no secrets left if he can't get to her in time. At
least that's his excuse to wreak havoc on bad guys in order to save his
Flynn's fans will get everything they want from a Mitch
Rapp adventure. Beginning with Rapp calmly assassinating an American
traitor aboard a luxurious yacht, to his "forceful interrogation" methods
that involve a lot more than a wet washcloth, and comaxing with a raid on a
radical mosque in violation of the rules of engagement; there is no doubt.
Rapp is back.
The awful Mark Wahlberg movie Shooter isn't
exactly the best selling point for Stephen Hunter's latest novel, The
47th Samurai, (Simon & Schuster, $26) which
is the taut and thrillling continuation of the Bob Lee Swagger series that
started with Point of Impact, the book on which Shooter was
Shooter's grating Michael Moore-like
speeches and the cynical blood-for-oil plot were a complete invention of the
filmmakers. Hunter, the Pulitzer Prize-winning film critic for the Washington
Post, has always been interested in exploring what makes the American fighting
man so special in the history of arms. Thus. unlike the film, the worldview
of this great action series is akin to Victor Davis Hanson, not Howard
The novel begins with Bob Lee undertaking a seemingly
simple task: He wants to return the samurai sword his father took from
a dead opponent on Iwo Jima to the soldier's surviving son. Instead, Swagger
gets mixed up with the Japanese underworld and a warrior cult determined to
recover a sacred sword. While Bob Lee finds much to admire in the strength and
honor code of the samurai, he also learns about its limitations in rigid
obedience and lack of individual initiative and moral choices.
Bob Lee Swagger may be an extraordinary warrior, but he
also stands as a common American archetype — the soldier who comes from a small
town, likes tinkering with guns and hunting and believes defending his country
is a family tradition that's as natural as breathing.
The plot of The 47th Samurai follows a similar path
to the underrated Robert Mitchum classic, The Yakuza. And if you think
too hard, you might decide that Hunter takes his Hanson-like thesis about the
superiority of the Western way of war a bridge too far.
But if you indulge in just a smidgen of suspension
disbelief you'll find The 47th Samurai to be one of the most enjoyable
reading experiences of the year.
Robert Ferrigno dedicates Sins of the Assassin to
the post 9-11 Medal of Honor recipients; but I guarantee you that all three of
these authors would join ranks over this sentiment:
"To Sgt. 1st Class Paul R.
Corporal Jason L.
and to all the other warriors who
so that the rest of us can sleep