John Corey and Asad Khalil have both lived hard-knock lives. As revealed in Nelson DeMille’s monster bestseller Plum Island, the gruff, wisecracking NYPD homicide cop Corey stopped a hail of bullets–but he couldn’t stop his wife from walking out on him. Asad, raised under Muammar Qaddafi’s eye after his dad’s murder, lost his surviving family in the 1986 bombing of Libya. He’s heard the nasty rumors about his mom and the colonel, but he aims his rage at the infidels. The boy’s got such a gift for terrorism he’s earned the nickname “the Lion,” and Boris, his vodka-sozzled, sex-addicted +¬migr+¬ mentor, knows precisely how to conduct a murder tour of America one step ahead of the police, the FBI, the CIA, and the ATTF (Anti-Terrorist Task Force), which combines members of all three. A pity Boris must die, but hey, he’s an infidel too.Asad pretends to defect, handcuffed to agents aboard a 747 bound for JFK, and he proves to be a worse seatmate than a siding salesman. Corey and his ATTF colleagues (most conspicuously the FBI’s sexy Kate Mayfield, Corey’s match in badinage and bad-guy busting) strive to halt Asad’s methodical yet unpredictable bloodbath. Skillfully, DeMille alternates chapters told from Asad’s and Corey’s points of view.
DeMille did his authenticity homework: when we’re not savoring his gift for wiseacre dialogue in the Corey-Kate chapters, we’re sweating alongside Asad on his ghastly, ingenious jihad. The New York Times put DeMille’s social satire on a par with Edith Wharton’s, and he’s great on the colliding folkways of the feuding, mutually doublecrossing crimebuster institutions. Naturally, he’s on the side of the regular-guy flatfoots. “Cops sit on their asses and flip through their folders,” he writes. “Feds sit on their derrieres and peruse their dossiers.” And the CIA gets it in the shorts, satirically speaking. One deplores the mass murderers, but the book’s real bad guys wear the priciest suits.DeMille reportedly has a $25 million book contract. With fast, funny, absorbing thrillers like The Lion’s Game, he’s earned it. –Tim Appelo