Grand Central Publishing, $27.99, 629 pages, ISBN 978-0-446-58084-7
We’re taking a quantum leap of the imagination with this week’s Mysterious Book Report, from eighteenth century Sweden, to twenty-first century Yemen. Yemen, for those wanting a little bit of remedial geography, (yeah, me too . . .) is located to the south of Saudi Arabia and shares a long, undefined boarder with it called the Empty Quarter. The Empty Quarter contains vast, untapped oil reserves and rebellious tribesmen at war with the south of Yemen. South Yemen itself sits strategically on the mouth of the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, putting Yemen in an ideal position to control a choke-point of the world’s oil shipments. Throw in a weak, ineffectual government, an Al-Qaeda presence that’s getting stronger by the day, a poor uneducated populace, high unemployment and close proximity to radical, and rich, Saudi extremists known as Wahabis . . . and Yemen is a ticking time bomb that could explode at any instant.
The Panther by Nelson DeMille is a long, arduous, and at times heart stopping mission to seek and capture or kill an Al-Qaeda terrorist known as The Panther. He’s a ruthless killer, elusive as the desert wind, the planner of numerous acts of terror and murder, including the attack on the U.S.S. Cole, a U.S. guided missile destroyer. It was attacked by two suicide bombers in a motorboat on 12 Oct 2000 as the Cole was refueling in the Yemen port of Aden, killing seventeen US sailors and injuring thirty-nine others, some critically. Anti-terrorist Task Force agent John Corey and his wife, FBI agent Kate Mayfield are tasked with finding and neutralizing The Panther . . . an American citizen . . . who was born and raised in Perth Amboy, New Jersey. The job is nearly impossible. Corey and Mayfield are non-Arabic speakers being sent into a dangerous and hostile environment where friend and foe are indistinguishable and interchangeable, where their team members are shifty, evasive, and shady; their motives unclear, their characters, as well as their sanity at times questionable. This one will leave you bleary-eyed from reading long into the night as you’re compelled to keep turning the pages, trying to figure out who, and if, anyone will get out alive. Astute readers will delight at the appearance of Paul Brenner, the U.S. Army Warrant Officer and criminal investigator introduced in DeMille’s novel The General’s Daughter. (The character played by John Travolta in the movie version). If you like spy and international thrillers you’ll love this book. I sure did.