This ‘fire’ needs more focus on character and plot development

Feb. 13, 2007 - Imagine it’s one year after the horrific attack on the World Trade Center. Imagine a group of powerful and influential men, some with very close proximity to the president and imagine their impatience to exact revenge for the devastation of 9-11-01.

Wild Fire
Nelson DeMille
Warner Books - 516 pp. - $26.99

Imagine some 70 suitcase-size nuclear weapons are missing from the Soviet Union. Imagine those weapons have fallen into the hands of Islamic terrorists.

Imagine the government of the United States has a plan for what to do in case of a nuclear attack, calling for swift and immediate retaliation. 

Now, connect all those imaginary dots and you have the basis for Nelson DeMille’s latest best seller, “Wild Fire.”

In DeMille’s book, Wild Fire is the country’s fail-safe against a nuclear attack. Should the United States be attacked by a Muslim nation, Wild Fire would result in “the nuclear obliteration of the entire Islamic world,” with immediate casualties estimated at two hundred million and long-range casualties to include another hundred million.

The rich and powerful members of the Custer Hill Club, led by a most ruthless villain, plan to implement their own version of Wild Fire. What they intend is both horrifying and intriguing.

Bain Madox, Custer Hill’s leader, has purchased some of Russia’s missing mini-bombs and  he’s hatched a plan to detonate them in two American cities, knowing that the attack will be blamed on Muslim terrorists. The club’s main objective is to provoke the government into implementing Wild Fire, thereby leveling most of the middle east.

The reasoning behind the Custer Hill Club’s pernicious plan? If the Islamic world is bombed into oblivion, there would be no more terroristic attacks on America and their vast oil resources would fall under the care and control of the United States.

However, someone at the New York City office of the Anti-Terror Task Force has gotten wind of the Custer Hill Club’s plot and sends orders for a low-level task force agent to do some snooping near the club’s rural estate. When the agent ends up dead in a ‘hunting accident,’ it falls to John Corey, ex-New York City detective turned federal agent, and his FBI agent wife, Kate Mayfield to find out what really happened to their friend and co-worker, Harry Muller. At the beginning of their assignment, the club’s activities are the back story. As the plot progresses, however, Corey and Mayfield realize there’s more than hunting and fishing taking place on the club’s vast property.

Corey, the hero of two previous DeMille best sellers, “Plum Island” and “Night Fall,” is not the easiest character to like. He’s cynical. He breaks all the rules. He has a problem with authority and he’s a bit of a chauvinist. How he landed someone as bright and conventional as Kate Mayfield is one of modern fiction’s great conundrums.

Corey’s bravado is legendary. In his mind, he is ten feet tall and bullet proof. In the minds of his superiors, he’s a loose cannon to be kept on a very short leash.

In his defense, Corey is loyal. It isn’t long into his investigation that Corey realizes his friend was nothing more than a sacrificial lamb sent to stir up the fury of the club and bring its members out in the open.

Once Corey puts that part of the puzzle together, there is no stopping him from getting to the core of the club and its purposes.

While Corey is to be commended for a job well done and living to save the world another day, his smugness and bravado wear thin in a hurry.

In “Plum Island” and “Night Fall,” the plot drives the story. It seems DeMille developed “Wild Fire” simply to showcase John Corey’s most annoying traits. Maybe the author wanted to see if fans would continue to follow Corey, even at his worst.

There are problems with the plot, too. An inordinate amount of time is spent on Harry Muller’s final days. DeMille uses Muller’s capture by Custer Hill Club’s security officers as a literary device to unveil most of the diabolical plot, explaining ad infinitum how it will unfold. With such a buildup, a detailed climax and follow-up is expected. But DeMille spends less than 50 pages revealing how Corey and Mayfield crack the case, save the world, and live to tell the tale.

Then, as almost an afterthought, the author tosses in a brief and bloody appearance of one of Corey’s arch enemies, whose presence only serves to muddy the water and make the reader wonder, “What in the world?”

DeMille’s books will continue to sell because Robert Ludlum is gone and there are few authors producing solid, political, axis-of-evil thrillers these days. John Corey will continue to be featured because we all need a hero, no matter how grating his personality.

Hopefully, DeMille will let Corey share the spotlight with other characters next time. Maybe  he’ll nurture the plot line a little more. And, maybe he’ll do a better job on telling us how it all goes down. 

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