Tag Archives: political

A semi-private war against terrorism continues in a fast-paced thriller

Unit 400: The Assassins, by T. L. Williams. First Coast Publishers. 298 pages. Trade paper $14.50.

Former Navy SEAL Logan Alexander’s semi-private war against Islamic terrorism continues in this high energy novel that grows smoothly out of its predecessor, “Cooper’s Revenge” (2012). Now running a maritime consulting business in Boston, Logan is soon involved in payback for payback. A year earlier, he had put together a special forces’ team, funded by a wealthy Kuwaiti businessman, that had destroyed an Iranian IED facility. The businessman’s son, Hamid, who had saved Logan’s life during the raid, has come to Boston to pursue a graduate degree. As he and Logan are about to meet for lunch, Logan is witness to Hamid’s murder in front of the restaurant. Unit400Cover

This killing is not a spontaneous event, but a carefully planned execution that is payback for the episode back in Iran. Iran’s Qods Force had compromised Kuwaiti intelligence and gained detailed information about the IED raid. This means that the participants, including Logan, are known and in danger. Iranian leadership wants to make it clear that it will brook no interference with its jihadist intentions. In fact, it has created a special cadre known as Unit 400 to carry out actions such as assassinating Hamid.

Logan had a glimpse of the assassin, a Middle Eastern man whom he described to the police. The killer’s weapon? It’s Logan’s own knife that he had plunged into an enemy leader during the raid.

While meeting with the Boston police detective assigned to the case in the police station, Logan sees a picture of the very man who killed Hamid. He is part of the police academy’s recent graduating class! Armeen Khorasani is quickly identified, but he has an ironclad alibi. He also has a twin brother, Nouri, who had left the family home in Massachusetts five years ago and was last reported to be living in Tehran.

Soon, Mr. Williams widens the lens of his novel by introducing the assassin and writing chapters and subsections from Nouri’s perspective. We learn about his motives, his training, his strengths, and his weaknesses. Through Nouri, readers come to know more about the mission and strategy of Unit 400. He is a credible, dedicated, cold-blooded monster.

T. L. Williams

T. L. Williams

Unit 400 plans take Nouri from Spain to Venezuela, then to Mexico and back to Boston. T. L. Williams does a spectacular job of describing Nouri’s precautions, in particular how he manages to avoid being followed and finds ways of moving from place to place so that he can confidently determined that he is not being followed. Readers learn, as well, about his ability – through specialists who assist his Unit 400 mission – to shift identities and deflect suspicion.

Nouri’s travels posit an Iran-Venezuela axis of rogue nations. Soon, his handlers get him back onto the completion of his mission to revenge the IED raid, which means having him return to Boston. What transpires there and what lies ahead for Logan Alexander must await your own reading of this most exciting story. . . .

To read this review in its entirety, as it appears in the March 19, 2014 For Myers Florida Weekly and the March 20 Bonita Springs, Charlotte County, and Naples editions, click here Florida Weekly – Unit 400 1 and here Florida Weekly – Unit 400 2.

Leave a comment

Filed under Authors and Books, Florida Authors

Fact-based fiction reveals enormous security threat

“Castle Bravo,” by Karna Small Bodman. Publisher Page / Headline Books. 320 pages. $24.95 hardcover, $19.95 trade paperback.

In her latest thriller, Karna Small Bodman raises the possibility that a characteristic of nuclear explosions called EMP (electromagnetic pulse) can bring sections of the developed world to a standstill by rendering useless all devices using modern electronics. Everything from computers to microwaves, from transportation systems to financial systems, would collapse. Cities would be paralyzed. Targeted populations would be seriously threatened as food cannot be delivered, hospitals will shut down, and ATMs won’t function. 

It’s back to the technologies of a half-century ago and more, before everything depended on computer chips and circuit boards.

And this is no mere speculation.  EMP has a real history, and the basic science behind it, as well as discussions of major incidents, can easily be found.

Ms. Bodman’s protagonist, Samantha Reid, newly installed as Assistant to the President for Homeland Security, in convinced that the U.S. must develop ways of deterring EMP attacks. Unfortunately, given military cutbacks and front-burner priority for other projects, no one is listening. To some of the higher-ups, she sounds a bit wacky and more than a bit pushy. The president’s Assistant for Political Affairs doesn’t want any news about such threats alarming the public during an election cycle.

Meanwhile, across the country, two UCLA students are concerned about the lack of programs and funding to assist nuclear test victims. Pete is the grandson of a woman who lived on Rongelap in the Marshall Islands and was poisoned, along with many others, by the residue of the 1954 Bikini Atoll nuclear test. He’s become a political activist. Nurlan is an exchange student from Kasakhstan. He has a similar story to tell about Soviet nuclear tests in his country. He, too, is dedicated to fighting against the lack of concern about such unintended consequences.

Karna Small Bodman

Nurlan arranges for Pete to join him in Kasakhstan for the summer, where Nurlan, a computer geek, has a job at a nuclear facility. Nurlan’s beautiful sister, Zhanar, finds a job for Pete. Hoping to minimize its negative consequences, Nurlan modifies the program for a nuclear test so that the bomb is exploded at high altitude. The result? An EMP. A large swath of the country is crippled. Nurlan, his Zhanar, and Pete barely survive. . . .

To read this review in its entirety, as it appears in the June 6, 2012 issue of Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the June 7 Naples and Space Coast editions, click here:   Florida Weekly – Karna Bodman 1pdf and here: Florida Weekly – Karna Bodman 2pdf

Leave a comment

Filed under Authors and Books, Florida Authors

New novel sounds a prophetic call for renewal of the Jewish state

Rise: A Novel of Contemporary Israel, by Yosef Gotlieb. ‘Atida Press. 386 pp. $14.99. Kindle eBook $4.99.

Rise is an astonishing tale, as true as the breaking news from Israel. Though it is easy to characterize it as promoting a leftist perspective on Israeli-Palestinian issues, it’s quite clear that the author and principal characters see themselves simply as practical. The new ingredient, for many readers, will be the increasing dimension of terrorism from within – meaning Jewish terrorism in particular. For Gotlieb, Israel’s own extreme right is as much a danger to the state as the terror born of Islamic fundamentalism. Its values and actions compromise the country not only politically, but also spiritually. They infect the country with a disease that cannot be cured even by Israel’s unparalleled medical institutions. 

In the novel, the governing Nationalist Party is headed by a self-perpetuating leadership cadre committed to satisfying the wealthy and powerful. Its policies promote unbridled materialism, increasing the distance between the rich and the poor, and its security stance pays more attention to real estate than to the values of justice, equality, and tolerance. For many, including Naftali Kedem, leader of the opposition forces, and Knesset member, the Nationalist Party is a dead end for Israel, destroying its nobility and essence without solving any of its problems. It implicitly perpetuates home-grown terror.

The story opens with the long-delayed homecoming of Lilah Kedem, a sabra in her mid-fifties who has spent three decades living in the United States. She has become an internationally-acclaimed photographer, long-separated from her husband and son, whose heart now tells her it is time to return.

The Israel Lilah returns to is changed in many ways. The divisiveness is ugly and bitter; variety has transformed into shades of “us and them.” Party lines are sharply drawn, and disagreement is felt and labeled as treachery. The country seems to have lost its soul.

Now reunited with her husband, son, and childhood friend Michal, Lilah inevitably befriends Michal’s husband, an Israeli Arab physician named Issam Halaby. In a short period of time, circumstances lead the two couples to bond and found a new movement. Na’aleh (rise) is not a political party but a loosely organized grassroots organization that fosters communication, cooperation, and mutual support to Israeli communities of all ethnic and religious stripes. It works to awaken the population to rise up against mindless hate and bigotry and the stranglehold that twenty wealthy families seem to have on government policy.

Unofficially allied with Naftali’s New Democratic Party, Na’aleh’s immediate concern is to counteract the Sons of Gideon, a right-wing terrorist group killing Arabs and conciliatory Jews by staging spectacular acts of murderous violence. Essentially, the Gideon group promotes ethnic cleansing of Israel’s Arab population and brooks no dissent from those striving toward fruitful accommodation and reconciliation.

A separate thread of the novel develops around the mission of Eli Zedek, a top-level Israeli security agent charged with investigating domestic terrorism. He, too, is on the trail of these home-grown terrorists, who gladly take credit for their atrocious deeds.

Before long, Eli and Lilah cross each other’s paths. Lilah, who is determined to fight with her camera, discovers an image of one of the perpetrators in a roll of film she shot in Jaffa while building her portfolio for a book on Women of the Ports. The image matches the description of the hulking figure many had witnessed at a terrorist attack by the Gideons.

The novel winds back and forth between the home lives of the key characters, the public rallies to topple the present government staged by the New Democratic Party / Na’aleh organizations, and the growing frequency of terrorist attacks. Lilah becomes the spokesperson for the movement to redeem her country from its social ills and spiritual ills, its debilitating hatreds and violence.

Embedded into the suspense-filled events and rich characterizations are compelling analyses of what must be done to correct Israel’s path and to release it from the stranglehold of a powerful minority. The issues are thoughtfully and clearly expressed, and the passions of the Kedem and Halaby families, along with the almost superhuman commitment of Eli, so often thwarted by government ineptitude or interference, make Yosef Gotlieb’s ideas and principles for a renewed and reawakened Israel come fully alive.

This review appears in the February 2012 issue of Federation Star (Jewish Federation of Collier County, FL) as well as its sister publications: L’Chayim (Jewish Federation of Lee and Charlotte Counties) and The Jewish News (Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee Counties).

Leave a comment

Filed under Authors and Books, Jewish Themes

Ward Larsen crafts suspense in Sudan

Fly by Night, by Ward Larsen. Oceanview Publishing. 336 pages. $25.95.

Ward Larsen has done it again, adding another pulse-racing Jammer Davis aviation thriller to last year’s exciting Fly by Wire. Suppose a power-hungry imam, Rafiq Khoury, had gained control of a downed experimental stealth drone and had it hidden in a guarded hangar at the Khartoum airport? Suppose this same person had headquartered his shady air freight company, a collection of patched together DC-3 aircraft, at that same airport? Suppose one of those aircraft mysteriously crashed into the Red Sea? Suppose U. S. security officials had some notion about the location of the drone? 

What would they do? Who are they going to call? Jammer Davis – maverick crash investigator. His job? Under cover of investigating the DC-3 crash, check on the whereabouts of the drone and discover what technological secrets might be stolen from it and put to dangerous purposes. Readers follow Davis as he makes his way to Khartoum’s FBN (sarcastically called Fly by Night) Aviation and begins his inquiry.

Episodes following Davis’s investigation alternate with others that follow the development of Khoury’s effort to master the remote control technologies of the stealth drone. Khoury and his underlings are in a race against time to fulfill a destructive mission of enormous regional and world consequences. While Ward Larsen keeps that mission’s objective obscured until near the end, he matches the ticks of the villain’s clock against those of Davis’s research – there is a huge threat that Davis must defuse before it’s too late.

Davis’s tasks multiply as his one-man mission brings him into arduous adventures on land, in the air, and on and under the sea. Seemingly equipped for almost any mental or physical challenge, Davis keeps in touch with his Washington, D.C. superiors as best he can while planning and improvising his way into and out of trouble.

One of the hallmarks of a Ward Larsen book is a high-octane blend of suspense, emotion, action, and technological detail. Fully master of the technological issues that Davis confronts, Mr. Larsen has the special talent of describing them in ways that are understandable to the general reader, that never stop the action, and that always keep that reader engaged. . . .

To read this review in its entirety, as it appears in the November 9, 2011 issue of the Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the November 10 Naples and Palm Beach Gardens editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Ward Larsen 2 pdf

For review of Larsen’s Fly by Wire, click here: Florida Weekly – Ward Larsen pdf

Leave a comment

Filed under Authors and Books, Florida Authors

Palestine: a fictional vision of the near-future

The following review appears in the October 2011 issues of the Federation Star (Jewish Federation of Collier County) and L’Chayim (Jewish Federation of Lee and Charlotte County).

Palestine, by Jonathan Bloomfield. Silver Lane Publishing. 472 pages. $14.95.

This military-political thriller confronts the Israeli-Palestinian conflict head on, mixing fact, fiction, and persuasive speculation in an engaging, and downright frightening narrative. What if the forces arrayed against Israel have conceived their ultimate plan for the annihilation of the Jewish State? What if they have operatives in Israel with whom Gaza-based and other Arab forces could quickly connect? What if these forces have nuclear weapons? What if Israel’s chief of security has knowledge of the plan and yet can’t convince the prime minister to take action? What if he stages a coup? What if Hammas has been infiltrated by an Israeli agent who has gained a major position and is feeding information to Israeli forces?

All of these things happen in Palestine, and much more. Bloomfield establishes several points of focus in the Palestinian and Israeli camps; then he alternates episodes and vantage points so that we see the war that has broken out not only from both sides but also from various factions and perspectives on each side. Bloomfield offers us characters at different points in the chains of command with the corresponding contrasts of rank and responsibility. He offers us Muslims who can see around the corners of the Islamic extremists’ rewriting of regional history. He offers us the courage of blind hatred and the courage of facing harsh, unavoidable truths. He offers insights into the traditional and contemporary cultures of the people whose communities and lives are at stake. 

Jonathan Bloomfield also provides a battlefield scenario that details meticulous planning and execution. He provides a blueprint that might very well become a reality. For all the carnage in the short run, he offers hope for a regional future in which peace, cooperation, and mutual benefit can arise.

He even offers some romance.

One of the challenges Bloomfield faced was integrating quite of a bit of education into a page-turning, high stakes adventure. Most of the time, he solves this problem well enough with plausible dialogue that addresses the historical facts that underpin his vision of the Middle East’s past and future. Only on a few occasions does the dialogue lose spontaneity and sound like a classroom lecture.

Recognizing that too much exposition and fact-rehearsal will interrupt the fast-paced action that readers will expect, Bloomfield relegates a portion of his fact-based arguments to an Epilogue and a series of Appendices that follow the novel’s main action. These add-ons, which comprise 120 pages of the book, are without doubt useful for information and contemplation. Readers will differ about whether or not they undermine the esthetic impact of the narrative.

Is Palestine merely Zionist propaganda dressed up as thriller fiction? Some will say so. However, the arguments made both in the fictional narrative and the appendices are compelling, containing as they do a mountain of hard historical facts.

Bloomfield imagines a future in which an Israeli educational system detoxifies the generations of thought control that has left millions of actual and alleged Palestinians living lives of more and more noisy and violent desperation. Deprogramming decades of Islamic extremist brainwashing would be an enormous task, even given the opportunity to try. But Bloomfield rather convincingly makes the point that some such process is absolutely necessary.

Whether read for entertainment, insight, or both, Palestine is worth your time.

Note: We can provide no photo of the author because as a result of this novel and related activities, Mr. Bloomfield finds his life in jeopardy.

Leave a comment

Filed under Authors and Books, Jewish Themes

Novel Paints Nazi Plot

This review appears in the January 2010 Federation Star (Jewish Federation of Collier County)

Clouds Across the Sun, by Ellen Brazer. TCJ Publishing. $14.95 (and available as an e-book)

What a premise! As WWII nears its end, Hitler devises a plan for world conquest through infiltration of the U. S. government and the governments of other nations. A select group of Third Reich henchman are commanded to marry well (racially and genetically speaking), make their way to the U. S. and elsewhere, program their children as Nazi operatives, and maneuver them into positions of influence and power. In two or three decades, the super-reign will begin to take hold, and world domination will be at hand.

When we meet eleven-year-old Jotto Wells, an intelligent and lovely girl living in pre-boom Naples, Florida, the process is underway. Her father, Hans, is one of those whom Hitler has selected, and Hans has readily accepted the mission. He is bringing up his daughter to be one of the stealth Nazis. Through hypnosis and other strategies, her future is being shaped.

Hans Wells is one of many Nazis who have found their way into the United States toward the close of the war and soon afterward. In its rush to gain a cadre of top-notch scientists and to accumulate information about the new adversary – the Soviet Union – the U. S. has turned a blind eye toward many suspected Nazi agents and sympathizers. Others have managed to keep their allegiance hidden.

Step by step, Ellen Brazer details the development of the plot along with the character of Jotto, who softens her name to Jo. Capable, beautiful, and yet with some kind of cloud hanging over her, the young woman excels in boarding school, college, and law school. She becomes a senator in the New York State government and the intended of a man being groomed for the presidency (in part by Nazi forces).  Along the way she is befriended by an older man, a famous and wealthy actor, one of several characters who affect Jo for the better. They function as alternatives to the parents and the uncle who continue to view Jo as a tool. Together with Jo, these friends attempt to thwart the Nazi scheme. At each revelation, the suspense thermometer shoots up a few stripes.

The novel has a broad scope, bringing us to Bolivia, several U. S. settings, Israel, and Lithuania. It also offers compelling intrigue, a series of romantic interludes, and a sophisticated presentation of the age-old question about the roots of identity. Which prevails: nature or nurture? Will Jo’s indoctrination prevail over her “better” nature? It will take a while for readers to understand how this question is complicated by the discovery that Jo’s true mother, thought to be dead, was the wife of the famous actor who had befriended her. And there are more surprises about this character. But my lips are sealed.

“Clouds Across the Sun” will engage readers with its the captivating story line, varied settings, and well-drawn characters. At http://www.ellenbrazer.com, one can learn more about the author and order the book. It is available as well at major online booksellers.

Ellen Brazer employs memories of her Naples childhood in her book. In the 1960s, her family belonged to the Jewish Community Center of Collier County, which later evolved into Temple Shalom. Her uncle, Garson Dinaburg, was the congregation’s first president.

Leave a comment

Filed under Authors and Books, Florida Authors, Jewish Themes

Karna Small Bodman’s “Final Finesse”

Since the review presented below was posted, a different version has appeared in the January-February 2010 number of the Fort Myers Magazine. See Ft.Myers magazine – Karna Small Bodman

 In her latest literary outing, Karna Small Bodman has taken a detour around the central characters of her first two political thrillers (Checkmate and Gambit) and given us compelling new personalities to follow in this captivating portrayal of all-too-plausible threats to our national security. When gas pipelines start exploding, Samantha Reid swings into action. As White House Deputy Director for Homeland Security, she senses the magnitude of the danger, but her opaque and self-absorbed superior is not ready to act. Indeed, no one seems ready to act. In Final Finesse, getting the bureaucracy to recognize and respond to a crisis is like wading in molasses.

finesse

Samantha finds an ally in Tripp Adams, vice president of GeoGlobal Oil & Gas, the company that owns the pipelines. She quickly figures out the technical side of what the saboteurs are up to and enlists Tripp in her investigation. Clearly enough, the explosions – as they mount – promote chaos in the fuel markets, sending prices out of sight. Communities and even large regions of the country are threatened by a severe, ongoing energy crisis that cripples all aspects of economic life.  Hospitals can’t function, heat is unavailable, people are suffering, and the country is ripe for panic. Among the possible beneficiaries are enemies of the United States, especially those with a significant stake in the world energy market. We are led to suspect the leader of a certain South American country who makes a policy of nationalizing enterprises that foreign investors like GeoGlobal spend fortunes to establish.

Tripp is assigned to go to Caracas and negotiate with “El Presidente” and his government. As he prepares for his trip, and as his professional dealings with Samantha turn personal, a white-hot romance develops. 

In Final Finesse, Bodman employs the sure-fire narrative technique of alternating perspectives. While Samantha is the controlling intelligence in one group of chapters, another group of chapters is focused on the gas field workers who have been hired and trained to sabotage the pipelines. Yet another group reveals the deliberations of El Presidente and his clever but conceited aide known “The Fixer.” The author brings one part of her story line to a suspenseful moment and then postpones pushing it forward by switching over to another part of her story line for a while, once again planting new and suspenseful questions. By orchestrating her narrative in this way, Bodman tightens her hold on her readers’ attention, revealing and withholding information with great dexterity.

The stakes are raised when Tripp is kidnapped and held for ransom in Venezuela. A frustrated and worried Samantha throws caution and government regulations to the wind, organizing her own rescue effort by getting GeoGlobal to hire a paramilitary crew from a company for which Tripp once worked.  From this point on, the plot line alternates primarily between Tripp and his kidnappers and the operatives whom Samantha has engaged – and whom she insists on accompanying into the danger zone. The team leader, Joe Campiello, is an attractive, well-drawn minor character.

Indeed, there is a fairly large cast of supporting players that give dimension and credibility to the world that Bodman constructs. These include Samantha’s boss, who tries to take credit for her work and can’t wait for his next appearance on cable news shows; a gang leader named Eyeshade; a friend of Samantha’s named Angela Marconi who also holds an important White House position; and Evan Ovich, another White House staffer whom I take as an irresistible, playful reference to a Bodman friend – a well-know novelist named Janet.

Final Finesse is a worthy addition to Karna Small Bodman’s growing collection of political thrillers. Authoritative, well-paced, and just plain fun to read, it also is a novel offering food for thought about the dangers that our country faces and intriguing insights into how well our government is prepared to deal with them.

credit Didi Cutler

credit Didi Cutler

While Bodman takes her readers to Oklahoma and other places where gas lines are threatened, to the White House and several other D. C. locations, and even to Venezuela – the brief reference to our dear Naples (Tripp’s parents have a winter place in Port Royal) is a bit of icing on the cake. Karna Small Bodman spends a good part of each year at home in Naples, where she is a great asset to the literary and cultural community. For biographical information on Bodman’s careers as a media professional and as a high-ranking government official, see her website www.karnabodman.com.

See also: Karna Bodman and Karna Bodman (2).

Leave a comment

Filed under Authors and Books, Florida Authors

Conspiracy Novel Set in Naples

Sometimes it takes a while. This review eventually appeared in print in the November 12-18, 2009 issue of the Naples Florida Weekly. Click here: Florida Weekly – Donald Robert Wilson

 Naples resident Donald Robert Wilson has fashioned a richly detailed political thriller set in and around Washington, D.C. as well as in Naples. The plot involves a conspiracy among  enormous conglomerates whose leaders have been plotting for twenty years to swallow up smaller companies and eventually merge into one huge economic force that will control and thereby replace elected government. Along the way, these monstrous companies avoid doing business with one another, keeping their relationships undetected as they individually gain influence by takeovers, bribery of officials, and a range of other legal and illegal activities. What began as a mixture of ostensible patriotism (expecting to do a better job of running the country than the government) and obvious greed turns into a series of rivalries and cross-purposes as the plot advances.

Beware the Barracuda develops by shifting points of view.  Sometimes we follow the adventures of Sophie Woznicki, the attractive and resourceful aide to Senator Hamilton, as she works on his behalf to investigate rumors and gather evidence of such a conspiracy. One person has already been killed after publishing an article about how “unscrupulous business leaders” could “usurp economic control of the country.” Sophie’s initial task is to persuade academic turned business executive Dr. Brad James of the plot, and then to enlist his help in thwarting it. Sophie is the closest thing to the novel’s main character, but there are times when she is off-stage too long, and when she is, the novel flags a bit.

Scenes without Sophie dramatize the complex conspiracy that she is striving to unravel. We meet the principal schemers – the leaders of the five conglomerates – and witness their advancing plot. We are flies on the wall during their secret meetings and growing mutual distrust, and we are also privy to conversations between those members of the group who had not expected to be involved in criminal activities to further their goals and who now need ways of controlling their less scrupulous colleagues. Wilson has challenged himself with the need to build a large cast of significant characters through which to tell his story, not only the “big five,” but underlings, hirelings, and family members. On occasion, the novel seems overstuffed with characters – and dialogue – and short on action. But there is always an effective balance of what is revealed and what is withheld to keep readers engaged and turning pages.

The key questions that promote suspense have to do with the genuine threat of the conspiracy, its potential implosion in rivalry and discord, and the intensifying threats to Sophie as she begins to penetrate the conspirators’ secrets. And there are romantic elements as well, as Sophie and Dr. James fall under one another’s spell. And there is just enough (and not too much) violence.

Southwest Floridians will particularly enjoy Wilson’s sure-handed use of familiar places. We find ourselves driving along Alligator Alley, visiting a character’s Pelican Bay penthouse office, entering a home  in Port Royal, eavesdropping on a meeting just across from city hall on the east side of Cambier Park, and observing a secret rendezvous in Loudermilk Park. The plot makes Naples a central location, as many of the fictional business titans keep residences in this slice of Paradise.  Wilson is equally adept at handling his other settings, particularly the Nation’s Capitol, its neighborhoods, and its suburban surroundings.

When I read Wilson’s first novel, The Bucket Flower, a few years back, I marveled at his convincing portrayal of a young woman as his central figure and controlling consciousness.  He does it again in Beware the Barracuda. I would love to encounter Sophie Woznicki again in a follow-up novel.

author Donald Robert Wilson

2 Comments

Filed under Authors and Books, Florida Authors

Aram Schefrin’s “The Tenth Cow”

FLORIDA NOVELIST FASHIONS MIDEAST THRILLER

[first published in the October 2008 issue of the Federation Star, the newspaper of the Jewish Federation of Collier County, Florida]

by Philip K. Jason

In The Tenth Cow, Aram Schefrin has built an intriguing, suspenseful, and highly original novel around the Old Testament requirement of sacrificing an unblemished red heifer as part of a purification process. Biblical and Mishnaic references stipulate that Temple priests purify the Temple itself by sprinkling the blood of the animal. Then the burned heifer’s ashes are mixed with water and used to purify those who have come into contact with corpses. The suggestion in the novel is that this ash solution would also be used to purify those assigned to build the Third Temple and to perform the Temple rituals. The rarity of such an animal, coupled with the necessity of the strictly defined slaughtering and purification ritual, suggests ongoing suspense regarding the maintenance of the temple as the center of worship and as the continuing locus of the living covenant between God and the Jews. In effect, there can be no Temple without ritual purity, and there can be no such purity without the discovery and sacrifice of a red heifer. Tradition holds that only nine such animals were found and sacrificed between the days of Moses and the destruction of the Second Temple. The tenth red cow has been sought for centuries as one prerequisite for the rebuilding of the temple and the ushering in of the Messianic Age.

Both Orthodox Judaism and Fundamentalist Christianity (though not for identical reasons) await the reestablishment of the Temple in Jerusalem. The faith traditions contain internal conflicts about whether or not human initiative and action should promote this end. Many believe that God alone means to bring about the restoration of the Temple and the Messianic Age when He sees fit.

Out of such materials, Schefrin has built a time bomb of suspense. The site for the Temple is perhaps the hottest potato in the Middle East, a spot claimed by the major faith traditions of the region. A plan to build the Third Temple at the Temple Mount is promoted by a Christian televangelist and abetted by certain sects in the Ultra-Orthodox Jewish community. Such a plan is likely to engulf the region in a Holy War among Muslims, Christians and Jews, a war that could truly bring about the End of Days. The discovery of a genetically engineered red heifer on a Florida farm signals that such a plot is underway.

Schefrin’s narrator, a Palm Beach journalist, is set onto the story by Arthur (“don’t call me Artie”) Kagan, a retired lawyer with some social standing in the Palm Beach community, especially among the polo set headquartered in Wellington. Arthur has been drawn into the flow of events as the unwitting accomplice of his older brother, Teddy, who had long been an unofficial undercover agent for Jewish and Zionist causes. Teddy’s home contains a computerized command center for the gathering and dissemination of information crucial to Jewish interests. It is Teddy who discovers the existence of the red heifer and recognizes the threat to world stability that it represents. Until he is murdered and Arthur takes on greater responsibility in the cause of thwarting the Fundamentalist initiative, Teddy rallies forces, including secular and moderate Jewish activists and those Orthodox Jews to whom the religious underpinnings of the plan is anathema, to undermine the effort.

The adventure is populated by a wide range of memorable characters, most notably the formerly estranged but slowly reunited Kagan brothers, but also including Shaya, a troubled Israeli beauty who captivates Arthur; Shaya’s father, a wise elder from the town of Tsfat who is steeped in Kabbalah; Shaya’s daughter, Chickie; and Arthur’s son, David (the latter too predictably become a loving pair). There is also a secretive university professor; several independent actors with connections to the Israel Defense Forces; the Reverend Moony Brice; and an MIT geneticist.

schefrin1

“The Tenth Cow” pulses and plays with the realities of contemporary politics while it explicates arcane aspects of traditional theology and legend. There is a world of learning in this book, as well as a high-speed adventure. The narrative draws and redraws a vivid map of Israel, Jerusalem in particular, in following the path of its characters. Schefrin is masterful in making contemporary Israel come alive, along with its tortured past and threatened future.

As well, the reader spends time in New York City and in a wide range of Palm Beach County settings. We follow Florida’s mysterious Route 80 west from its urban anchor near Palm Beach International Airport through the northern border of Wellington (where Schefrin lives) and out through the sugar cane fields into unknown territory. We stop along Worth Avenue in Boca for upscale shopping. We enjoy some off-track polo.

Essentially, The Tenth Cow is a provocative “what if” story, a rich stew of fascinating ingredients that shocks readers with the knowledge that its premise is not as far-fetched as one might at first believe. Kudos to Aram Schefrin for cooking it up.

Authorhouse. $17.99 trade paperback. 400 pp.

Note: See my review of Schefrin’s earlier novel with bio: https://philjason.wordpress.com/2007/11/14/book-beat-57-aram-schefrin/

Leave a comment

Filed under Authors and Books, Florida Authors, Jewish Themes

BOOK BEAT 63 – Karna Bodman (2)

BOOK BEAT   Naples Sun Times   February 6, 2008

by Philip K. Jason

With her second novel, “Gambit,” Karna Small Bodman has established herself as one of the premier crafters of political thrillers. Drawing upon her own experience as a high-ranking media and security official in the Reagan White House, Bodman can make her handling of government decision-making, the Capitol Beltway environment, and international politics ring true. Her attractive heroine, a scientist who is both personally and professionally dedicated to national defense, wrestles once again with technological solutions to major threats to world peace. And, as in her first appearance in “Checkmate,” Cammy Talbot’s heart is tested on more than one level.

Why are jetliners falling out of the sky? An unknown enemy has found a way to bring down commercial aircraft while leaving hardly a trace of how it was done and how the destructive weaponry remained undetected. With the U. S. government seemingly incapable of dealing with this threat, the transportation industry is grinding to a standstill and the stock market is plummeting. Chaos is on the horizon. Who is behind these atrocities, and with what motive? These are the questions that need to be unraveled as quickly as possible. 

Talbot, whose inventive genius on missile defense systems had saved the world from possible catastrophe several months earlier, is once again placed on center stage in this new dilemma. While working with a Boston-based Chinese colleague on a new missile defense concept, Cammie Talbot learns of activities on mainland China that suggest the development of stealth missile systems with new guidance technologies. When Talbot leaves her friend’s university lab to grab a cup of coffee at a nearby Starbucks, the Chinese scientist and his lab are destroyed by an explosion. 

As the plot unfolds, we meet high-ranking government officials in furious panic, leaders of rival R & D firms vying for government contracts, and, though kept in the shadows, the perpetrators themselves. Panic accelerates when a plane taking off from Dulles Airport explodes, ending the life of Austin Gage, the National Security Advisor to the President. These doomed planes can no longer be considered random targets.

When Vice President Jayson Keller takes over Gage’s duties, new complications arise. Keller and Talbot are now working together on the accelerating security nightmare, and it is clear that he is interested in her. Talbot is hesitant, still nursing a sense of abandonment and betrayal in the wake of her aborted romance with Colonel Hunt Daniels, the White House Arms Control and Strategic Defense aide. When Daniels, who has been on secret assignments, comes back into the picture, Talbot is torn between her passion for him, the genuine appeal of Jayson Keller, and her unwillingness to get hurt once again. These workplace romances are hell, especially in the corridors of power.

As Talbot moves towards testing her new missile detection and defense concepts, it becomes quite clear that her centrality to thwarting the attacks on U. S. aircraft is known to the enemy. She becomes a target. Now it is her heart’s courage that is tested.

Cammy Talbot’s romantic and research concerns are neatly counterpointed through her friendship with Melanie Duvall, who heads corporate communications at Bandaq Technologies where Talbot works. Duvall, herself entangled with a dashing, spotlight-stealing senator, serves as a kind of confidante, yet she is an attractive character in her own right – a breezier and less guarded counterpart to Talbot.

The author moves us sure-handedly through a range of locals – not only the D. C. area, but San Francisco, Travis Air Force Base, remote sections of China, Brasilia, and Taipei. We hear of Chinese military exercises in the Taiwan Strait. We hear of alliances with Japan and assistance from India in the face of the looming threat. The pace quickens, and the pulse of expectation thunders louder and louder.

Karna Small Bodman has another winner in “Gambit,” just released by Forge Books. She will be signing her new title on April 5 and 6 at the Naples Press Club’s Authors and Books Festival, which is being held at the von Liebig Art Center.  

Philip K. Jason, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus of English from the United States Naval Academy.  A poet, critic, and free-lance writer with twenty books to his credit, this “Dr. Phil” chairs the annual Naples Writers’ Conference presented by the Naples Press Club. Send him your book news at pjason@aol.com.

Leave a comment

Filed under Authors and Books, Book Beat, Florida Authors