Wild Fire, by Nelson DeMille
I read a page of this book on someone else’s Kindle on a flight a few weeks ago and was intrigued enough by the premise that I bought and read it fairly quickly. Ultimately, that intriguing premise is all the book has to offer, unless you read a book for unfunny dialogue, a grating protagonist, and a cartoonish villain. (Notice I didn’t say a plot, of which there is little.)
The novel, published in 2006, is set in 2002, just after 9/11. The premise – and I’m not giving away much here – involves a secret government protocol called Wild Fire established in the 1980s to deal with the nascent threat of Islamic terrorism. If a weapon of mass destruction is used on American soil by Islamic terrorists, an automated response rains down nuclear weapons on the major cities and other key sites of the Muslim world, killing hundreds of millions. The governments of those states are aware of the protocol and have kept their terror groups in check as a result. Enter Bain Madox, American oil billionaire and Bond villain, played in my mind by Sam Elliott. Madox, angered by 9/11, wants to activate Wild Fire by detonating nuclear weapons on American soil. Certain elements in the federal government have assured him that the government tacitly approves and wouldn’t stop the automated response if it came to that.
I’m not giving much away here – Madox tells this entire story to Harry Muller, a federal agent he captures on his property in the first 30 pages. (Exposition makes for awesome reading.) Harry’s disappearance triggers an investigation by the protagonist John Corey (apparently this is his fourth appearance in DeMille’s books) and his wife Kate Mansfield. Mansfield is just perfect enough to be boring – a FBI agent and a lawyer, she’s sexy, smart, and level-headed. Corey, a former NYPD cop now working for the Anti-Terrorism Task Force, is none of those things except boring. A classic “I don’t play by the rules” tough guy, Corey is a caricature who tells awful jokes every time he opens his mouth and resists authority for no good reason. I don’t need characters to be likable for a book to be good, but Corey is actively grating.
Corey and Mansfield investigate Muller’s disappearance and face off with Madox more than you’d think would happen in a criminal investigation. I really get the feeling that DeMille loved these characters* and thought it was thrilling to have them talk face-to-face a la the aforementioned Bond and his evil counterparts. Unfortunately, he ends up forcing one-dimensional stereotypes into mostly boring conversations. The characters also make some silly choices, and there is ultimately almost no tension in the book’s 519 pages (200 without Corey’s awful jokes). The plot is virtually non-existent – a hard feat given that nuclear war is imminent.
*In the preface, DeMille says he believes Madox is the “best villain” DeMille ever created, and “certainly … the smartest and most interesting bad guy to come out of some scary place” in DeMille’s psyche. If true, don’t read anything by DeMille.
A lazy and ultimately boring effort. Not recommended.