I finished listening to this audiobook a few days ago, but hadn’t decided whether to even write a post about it. It kept my attention well enough, as I wanted to get to the answer to the mystery, but it was a disappointment in several ways. The back cover talks about the Freemasons and a historical mystery, but the Freemasons are at best peripheral to the story, and the historical mystery isn’t even a mystery to someone who knows the relevant history.
There is plenty of mystery, however, in a plot that combines a few too many highly improbable scenarios. Wes Holloway, the protagonist, does not know whom he can trust anymore. Someone he has known and trusted for years is on the side of the bad guys, but he doesn’t know who – nor even who the bad guys are, for much of the book.
Wes is an unlikely hero, who has never fully recovered from a traumatic injury eight years earlier. His face is permanently disfigured, but far worse is how it affects how he sees himself. Between feeling guilt for his role in Ron Boyle’s death (because Wes put him in the vicinity of the president during an assassination attempt), shamed at the knowledge that most people react to the sight of him with either morbid fascination or unwillingness to even look at him, and extreme anxiety where danger is concerned, Wes feels that his life has been ruined.
I know personally that being attacked can leave you always jumping at loud noises. And from the same experience I know that one can blame oneself even knowing, on an intellectual level, that such feelings of guilt are irrational. I have no personal experience with disfigurement, but I know that I have trouble knowing how to act normally with someone with a particularly odd appearance. (When our older son was in middle school, they showed parents a video which the students were going to see, about making right choices. It showed a girl whose face was horribly disfigured as a result of an accident caused by a drunk driver. It was hard to look at her, and I wondered how I would react if I met her in person.)
But people do recover from such traumatic experiences. Many people with disfiguring injuries are much less uncomfortable with their appearance than are the people who see them. For someone who is as psychologically damaged as Wes is, to suddenly become determined to track down the mystery even though it brings the bad guys after him, and then to willingly confront the enemy – even considered that there is a woman involved whom he wants to protect, it is not all that convincing.
One aspect I don’t normally comment on is the narration of an audiobook. A good narrator can certainly enhance my enjoyment of a book, but I try not to let my impression of a book be negatively affected by a voice I find unpleasant. As this is the second audiobook in a row I have listened to with narration by Scott Brick, however, I have to point out that I do not like his style. From reviews at amazon.com, it is clear that some people think he does a great job. I can’t even quite put my finger on what I dislike. But I think it has something to do with too much trying to say something a certain way for effect, rather than just reading.
One point I have to make about the book, however, and why I decided I would post about it after all, is what it says about cooperation between the different security agencies of the United States government. Especially since 9/11, there has been a lot of concern about being sure information is shared fully and operations are coordinated, rather than duplicating efforts. But this book poses a scenario where national security is threatened precisely because individuals at three agencies decide to work together.
The problem is that they aren’t working for the good of the nation. They want to line their own pockets, seeing an opportunity to make a lot more money than their modest salaries. Normally the accuracy of intelligence picked up by one agency is verified by comparing it with intelligence collected by other agencies. But these men figured out that they could simply share information and then pretend they had collected it separately and verify one another.
In the novel they make their money by pretending that it came from a fictional informant in one of the world’s hot spots. Their problem is that they get greedy, and try to add to their number an insider at the White House. And they may have succeeded…
But in real life, what does that say about the importance of information sharing and cooperation between agencies, versus the need to work independently so that they can verify the accuracy of one another’s sources? It’s something I never thought about before, and I’d be interested in knowing what has been written on the subject – by people other than novelists.