“I will hurt you for this. I don’t know how yet, but give me time. A day will come when you think yourself safe and happy, and suddenly your joy will turn to ashes in your mouth, and you’ll know the debt is paid.” ― George R.R. Martin, A Clash of Kings
“How I hate this world. I would like to tear it apart with my own two hands if I could. I would like to dismantle the universe star by star, like a treeful (sic) of rotten fruit. Nor do I believe in progress. A vermin-eaten saint scratching his filth for heaven is better off than you damned in clean linen. Progress doubles our tenure in a vale of tears. Man is a mistake, to be corrected only by his abolition, which he gives promise of seeing to himself. Oh, let him pass, and leave the earth to the flowers that carpet the earth wherever he explodes his triumphs. Man is inconsolable, thanks to that eternal “Why?” when there is no Why, that question mark twisted like a fishhook in the human heart. “Let there be light,” we cry, and only the dawn breaks.” ― Peter De Vries, The Blood of the Lamb
Cindy Dees, the author of Fever Zone, should have known that there was going to be an issue when her airplane seatmate, who had been glancing more and more often at her laptop screen, opened a conversation.
Him: “Ma’am, I’m going to have to ask you who you are.”
Me (surprised): “And you would be who? (Honestly, I expected him to be an air marshal, given his size and chilly demeanor.)
Him: “I work for Homeland Security.”
Of course, the next few hours sitting in a sterile airport office being interrogated by a variety of alphabet agencies pretty much guaranteed that she had stumbled upon a story line that made said agencies extremely uncomfortable. Guaranteeing to wait for a year, for Homeland to “plug the hole” Dees did, indeed, wait to publish. And the story, of grief and hatred, obsession, cultism and terrorism is breathtaking in its twisted, terrifying simplicity. The youngest female fighter pilot in history, Dees worked in intelligence gathering and was detained by both the KGB and East German secret police, so she has the background to understand the inner workings of government and military agencies, and her scenario, in all its twists and turns, is highly believable. The backgrounds of the ‘bad guys’ involved are almost mundane in their very commonality, while the history of “The Scientist” who anchors the story is heartbreaking and, again, so real as to allow you to actually feel his despair.
“Is this a dagger which I see before me,
The handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch thee.” – William Shakespeare, Macbeth Act 2 Scene 1
The West Bank. Jerusalem. One year ago. Yusef Abahdi, his daughter Salima, and his wife Marta, are Palestinians, living in a world defined by the ongoing conflict between Jews, Zionists, Muslims and Christians, all determined to destroy one another over a bit of desert wasteland with a millennia-old history of violence and savagery. It is a life of poverty, hunger and razor wire, suicide bombers and high-powered rifles trained on them every day by young Israeli Defense Force soldiers with itchy trigger fingers, filled with their own overwhelming dread. Yusef, with his degree in biochemistry, cares for his daughter during the day the best he can, while Marta, with her masters in Literature, works as a maid for a rich Jewish family. A life of terror, brought to a razor’s edge by a bomb. A bomb that crystallizes into a core of cold, diamond hard rage.
What comes next is a tale that is terrifying to behold in its very simplicity. Take a broken man, filled with rage, a simple-minded cult of Luddites, mix in enough money to forward a plot whose edges are ill-defined, and wrap it all up in a race to save hundreds of thousands of people from a manufactured plague. The concept of the story got the attention of Homeland Security, so you know the fear is real. This part of the story is well researched and well written.
But then, we get to “the other part.” Here is where the tale comes crashing down around the reader’s ears.
Mike McCloud is a Navy Special Forces operative, an observer, watching over a filthy street on a rooftop in Khartoum. Once one of the greatest cities of the world, Khartoum is a little corner of Purgatory, savage and brutal – and an incubator for some of the most savage terrorists the world has ever known.
Piper Roth is also an observer, sent by the CIA to follow up on a pair of seemingly innocuous cult members who have changed their MO drastically by scurrying off to the Sudan. When the two meet eye-to-eye through rifle scopes while observing the savage murder of a shopkeeper in the middle of the street (Observe. Report. Do NOT engage.), the question is, “Shoot, or don’t shoot?” Neither shoots, it is ‘observe only,’ you know. Roth flees. McCloud chases. His brief is to know everyone in the area, to find The Scientist, and to find out why a previously unknown Warlord is moving in on this seemingly worthless neighborhood in an even more worthless city. And he is determined to know who the other sniper is, what ‘he’ is doing there, and who he works for. Only, the ‘he’ is a she. And this chapter is the one that nearly had me putting the book down and walking away.
This is a serious subject, and from the intro (EbolaFeverZone) I expected a serious book. What I got was the two of them running through the streets, him overtaking and overwhelming her as if she has no CIA self-defense or evasion training whatsoever, and the two of them immediately rutting like wild dogs without knowing, 1) Who each other are, 2) Who the other person works for, 3) Each others names, or 4) Hey, do you, like, have any diseases I need to know about? You know, since we are in the armpit of the universe and STDs, as well as, oh, I don’t know, Lassa, Ebola and other little nasties are commonplace . . .
GAARG!!! (Of course, I should have known from the cover, right? I was just hoping….oh, and she is a blonde, not a brunette as it shows on the cover. Sigh.) Pages of rutting, then the “Big Strong Alpha Male” rescuing the “Weak Little Woman” (who does things so stupid I simply could not, under any circumstances, believe it – I mean, you are an observer, woman! Observe, don’t go rushing in to fight a couple of religious policemen who are beating a young girl, you idjit. That shit happens. It sucks, but it isn’t your job.) Followed by more pages of rutting and the supposedly CIA trained and experienced CIA observer whining and mewling in her head ad nauseum with the whole “I hate him but I want to screw him again and, oh, woe is me, does he like me or doesn’t he like me and I want to marry him and have his babies, but I hate him for treating me like an ignorant child (even though she acts like an ignorant child) who needs his big strong protection, but oh, lets screw again” crap pissed me the hell off. I mean, the author is a decorated pilot, for Pete’s sake! I really would like to not think that she is a whiny, needy wreck like her so-called heroine.
Hence, my less-than-stellar review of a book suffering from schizophrenia and a serious identity crisis. Romantic thrillers I understand, and actively look for in my reading. They are, basically, romances that at least have a good story line to back up the nookie. But I expected much more from this book. I wanted what it was advertised as – a Thriller. What I got was a serious, thoughtful idea weighed down by cliché, with a female lead I wanted to shake some sense into. Come on – you are a CIA agent poached from the CDC – I would expect you to have a modicum of common sense! I suppose I am offended, mainly, because I expected so much, and she delivered so little.
Anyway. I found the book on eBookDiscovery.com. I got it for free in exchange for a realistic review. I am only taking on books right now that really grab my attention as I am so busy, but this one showed such promise, I couldn’t refuse. As much as I gripe, I do recommend reading it. It is Very. Scary. I just wish the author had laid off catering to the romance-only crowd and been serious about her characters. It would have been a much better book and would draw the attention of a much wider audience without being crippled by the heavy concentration on the cliché romance rather than the story.