I think weâ€™re all aware of the state of the thriller. Cartoon characters save the world from other cartoon characters; thereâ€™s sex, but not too much. Weapons systems, jargon, the future of mankind at stake; the dialogue typically forces the reader to the dark side, rooting for the villain.
Chris Dickeyâ€™s novel THE SLEEPER is a serious setback to this downward spiral. This is a page-turner with style, force and genuine passion.
The novelâ€™s catalytic event is the destruction of the World Trade Center. Yes, 9-11, 2001. Kurt Kurtovic lives in Westfield Kansas with his wife and daughter. Like a lot of people he saw the cataclysm unfold on television. Unlike most of us Kurt thinks he knows whoâ€™s responsible; not in a general sense, but in a very personal one.
Kurt is an ex-army ranger and a former mujad fighter in Bosnia. Despite his blond hair, blue eyes and Midwestern roots, Kurt is a Muslim, albeit not in current standing. The destruction in New York and DC propels him into action. It becomes apparent quickly that the FBI and CIA are well aware of his background. With his family at risk, Kurt undertakes a preemptive journey through the looking glass of international terror.
The vectors include England, Spain, and a remote village on the Kenya-Somali border. Al Qaeda operative Abu Zubayr is reported in the vicinity.
Without spoiling the plot, itâ€™s safe to say that Kurt is in possession of something the terrorists want. His lone contact with US officialdom is Griffin, a CIA agent whose agenda fluctuates with the changing priorities set by Washington. Money changes hands, but itâ€™s clear the two men cannot afford to trust one another. Only when their goals coincide does Griffin help. That help is enough to spring Kurt from Gitmo;not enough to keep Kurtâ€™s wife and daughter from the terroristâ€™s grasp.
The story comes full circle, back to the USA, back to Kansas. The climax occurs within sight of Ground Zero in lower Manhattan. This is a novel, after all, with a beginning, a middle and an ending, unlike the real-life drama that infuses the book.
Christopher Dickey wrote the novel in the first person. It’s an interesting choice, unusual in this genre. The technique succeeds in personalizing a story that could have failed in lesser hands. Anger throbs throughout the narrative and is channeled through Kurt’s desperation. There are a few flat points and some abrupt transitions. Dialogue between Kurt and his wife sometimes sounds forced, and the author cluster bombs us with similes from time to time. This is the second book of a trilogy, but can be read as a standalone. The book feels a little compressed like an interesting dinner guest who leaves too soon.
The book raises questions about how intelligent US intelligence agencies are. To the author’s credit, these issues are imbedded in the narrative, not dropped from on high as intrusions. This is a good one; taut, well-written, fierce and relentless. Can’t wait for more.