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Truer Than Fact By: David Forsmark
FrontPageMagazine.com | Tuesday, April 28, 2009

While Janet Napolitano and President Obama’s Department of Homeland Security issue reports on fictional threats to the United States, five excellent pop fiction writers emphasize the real threats to our country.

No. 1...with Bullets

In the past decade, Harlan Coben has become one of the world’s best-selling authors. His suspense novels (such as Tell No One, which was filmed as a very good French thriller) usually feature ordinary people caught up in webs of intrigue. Car chases in a Coben book are more likely to feature minivans than Aston Martins or red Ferarris.

His series about Myron Bolitar — a one-time basketball star who metamorphasized into a sports agent after a horrible knee injury, then became a P.I. on the side — has him increasingly learning to be a dangerous guy. Myron's new-found skill set serves him well in Coben’s latest No. 1 bestseller, Long Lost (Dutton, $27.95) as he helps an old flame dodge bad guys in Paris who probably killed her CNN reporter/husband — and who seem to be accompanied by the woman’s presumed-dead daughter.

Long Lost is one of those books that you can’t talk about for more than a minute without spoiling a plot point. You also won’t be able to put it aside for much more than a minute once you start.

Unlike the infamous DHS report, which seems to hint that the FBI should cruise around looking for cars with pro-life bumper stickers to surveil, Myron has a very non-Manhattan cocktail circuit response to a pro-life website: "It’s kind of right wing, but not extreme."

And while Homeland "Security" is looking for pro-lifers who use babies as a front to recruit car-bombers, Coben reminds us that there is an expansionist ideology that views women’s wombs as subject to the whims of men to produce cannon fodder for the cause — and it’s not the Christian right or even neocon bogeymen.

I’ve already said too much. Just grab Coben’s latest, and lose yourself — it's the best thriller of its type since Andrew Klavan’s Empire of Lies.

America Unplugged

Here’s a "man-caused disaster" for Napolitano's to consider, while the Obama administration is signaling its disinterest with missile defense and pooh-poohs the nuclear threat from North Korea and Iran because, in America's worst-case scenario, they could deliver only a "few" nukes against the West.

In One Second After, (Forge, $24.95), however,  William Forstchen — the co-author of Newt Gingrich’s alternate history novels — shows how one nuclear weapon could kill hundreds of millions of Americans and finish the United States as a world power.

Forstchen, who lives in a small college town in the North Carolina mountains, takes a devastating and grimly realistic look at what would happen to his hometown if an enemy took out America’s electric grid — and anything run by a computer — with an electro-magnetic pulse (EMP) weapon.

Suddenly,  former Army Col. John Matherson, now a history professor, and his townfolk find themselves without refrigeration, automobiles or electrical power of any kind. Without refrigeration or transportation, food, medicine and drinking water become in short supply overnight. Anyone with a life-threatening illness feels the clock ticking. Meanwhile, the resulting anarchy and desperation mean the community must make decisions about whom to help and whom to fight.

Fans of TV’s Jericho will find much more to chew on in One Second After, which is more substantive and hopeful than such made-for-TV movies as The Day After or Testament — but not too much more. One might argue that the book should account for a little more American ingenuity and a little less Malthus. One Second After, however, is easily the literary equivalent of Nevil Shute's On the Beach or Pat Frank's Alas, Babylon, though I always thought the former was tremendously over-rated.

Forstchen theorizes that the problem would not even begin to be solved for about a year. While some contend that his scenario is too pessimistic and an EMP would not fry electronic devices as badly as Forstchen supposes, a pre-release copy of the book has provoked discussion in the Pentagon. Congressional studies have theorized as many as 100 million people would die within weeks of such an event.

As an entertainment, One Second After is gripping. It's a chiller that will make you look at the world differently while you read it and will stay with you for long after you finish.

Late in the book, John Matherson curses the politicians who sealed the fate of millions of their fellow citizens because they could not be bothered to invest in "better surge protectors."

Indeed. But the ability to shoot down a single warhead with certainty wouldn’t be a bad start, either.

Buckley’s Ghost?

Readers are quite used to hearing there’s a witty, literate and suspenseful new spy thriller from the editor of National Review — but this is not a newly discovered or posthumous entry in the late, great William F. Buckley’s famed Blackford Oakes series.

You might be surprised — and, if you pick up the book, pleased — to find that NR editor Rich Lowry learned about more than editorializing from his close association with the father of conservative journalism. His new novel, Banquo’s Ghosts (Vanguard, $25.95), with co-author Keith Korman, is the season’s most pleasant surprise.

Peter Johnson is a boozy columnist for The Crusade, a left-wing magazine run by his "first ex-wife," Josephine von Hildebrand, a rich Marxist who throws celebrated dinner parties for New York’s elites. Johnson gets to be part of the radical chic by writing new installments of "Why they Hate Us" whenever Josephine beckons.

But watching the Twin Towers collapse from his fancy Brooklyn Heights apartment window with his daughter — who could have been working in the World Trade Center that day — changes Peter. An unplanned blurting of truth at a college forum leads to Peter being recruited by Stewart Bancroft (aka Banquo), an old-school CIA spymaster who has used the system exposed by Ishmael Jones in The Human Factor to defend America, rather than make money and accrue power.

Banquo encourages Peter to continue his anti-America rants as the perfect cover for a dangerous mission: using his upcoming trip to whitewash Iran’s nuclear program to assassinate Iran’s top nuclear scientist.

Think Christopher Hitchens disguising his political awakening and using Katrina Vanden Heuval and The Nation as cover for a CIA mission, and you get the spirit of Banquo’s Ghosts just about right.

Lowry and Korman have great fun with the media, lampooning MSNBC's Chris Matthews and CNN's Larry King by name. Banquo’s Ghosts also works as a serious thriller, with accounts of torture and a chilling terrorist plot that reminds us there is a serious world being badly covered by an unserious media. Banquo’s Ghosts is hopefully the beginning of a long-running series — perhaps with Shakespeare-themed titles as its trademark.

Danger, Danger, NY Times

I’m starting to think the editorial writers at the New York Times get their news from MSNBC. The Old Gray Lady certainly isn't getting its view of the world — and America’s enemies — from its own fine
foreign correspondents, Dexter Filkins (The Forever War) and Alex Berenson.

Berenson's latest novel, The Silent Man, (Putnam, $25.95) won’t make him any friends at the Council of American-Islamic Relations, as an al-Qaeda terrorist plot is aided and abetted at every turn by
"moderate" Muslims who refuse to stand against the violent radicals in their midst until it’s too late.

In just three books, Berenson’s fine spy series featuring CIA agent John Wells has covered the Axis of Evil and then some. But, unlike his newspaper, Berenson is gaining market share for his publisher by leaps and bounds.

Here’s a sentiment you won’t find reflected on the NYT editorial page, as Wells replies mentally to a snooty French agent’s condescension toward Americans: "Well I’ve done all right so far… and so has the United States. And last time I checked, France has a second-rate economy and a third-rate army and got attention mainly for the sex lives of its president."

Berenson’s strength is that he employs his foreign correspondent experience to great effect with locales from Kazakhstán to Hamburg to Switzerland; with understanding of how the security and government bureaucracies work — or don’t work — in each place.

When an assassination attempt fails against Wells and his former CIA handler, now fiance, the plotter — fearing retaliation by Wells — proposes a truce. Wells says "bygones" in exchange for information about a nuclear plot against the U.S. As Wells follows the trail, always one step behind the jihadists smuggling stolen Russian warheads into America, the tension mounts, and readers learn a lot about the world in the process.

But no matter how cynical the cruel world may turn him, or how frustrated he becomes with American intelligence bureaucracies, Wells is driven by the realization that "The world would be a poorer place if the American dream died."

He Shoots, We Score

Gunnery Sgt. Jack Couglin, USMC (ret) is the only author on this list who could put more notches on his gun than his keyboard. As the top Marine sniper in Iraq, killing terrorists for him was not a
theoretical exercise. And while his fiction doesn’t compete with Shooter — his autobiography, the new classic in sniper literature — Couglin's fictional series with Shooter co-author Donald Davis is cool, efficient and deadly.

In Dead Shot (St. Martin's, $24.95), Marine sniper Kyle Swanson and his covert team are assigned to find a bioweapons lab called "The Palace of Death," Saddam Hussein’s final and most deadly secret in Iraq.

Tasked with stopping them is Juba, the jihadist’s best sniper. The British army-trained son of a naturalized Muslim doctor and a Scottish human rights attorney, Juba, is working for a terrorist who wants to replace terror mastermind Osama bin Laden as the top dog in the jihad. He figures a biological attack against the United States is his ticket.

The duel between Swanson and Juba is as tense as anything in a Stephen Hunter novel. While it’s hard to argue that Coughlin and Davis are in Hunter’s literary league just yet, it’s been a while since the master of sniper fiction has written a book as good as Dead Shot.

Of course, if reading about real life threats sounds more anxiety-inducing than entertaining, you could always pick up the Janet Napolitano Department of Homeland Security report on the right-wing extremist threat. At least that won’t keep you up nights turning pages.

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