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Sins of the Assassin By: David Forsmark
FrontPageMagazine.com | Tuesday, March 11, 2008


Sins of the Assassin
By Robert Ferrigno
Scribners, $24.95, 400 pp.
 
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 for Frontpage after joining up in January 2006 was a rave review of Prayers, 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 planned trilogy.
 
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 Confederacy.
 
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 Old One.
 
"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 worse."
 
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 read.
 
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 history.
 
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 tough guy.
 
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 friend.
 
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.
 
American Samurai
 
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 based.
 
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 Zinn.
 
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. Smith
Corporal Jason L. Dunham
Lt. Michael Murphy
and to all the other warriors who sleep badly.
so that the rest of us can sleep well."

Roger that.



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