Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Wordcraft – Psst! the world ends Thursday, pass it on

Code of Conduct
by Brad Thor

Brad Thor strode into Half Price Books’ flagship store in Dallas last week on tour for Code of Conduct, the most recent thriller in his series about ex-Navy SEAL Scot Harvath. He insists that “Thor” is his real name, and like him, he bears an eerie resemblance to such older gods of modern thrillerdom as James Rollins and David Baldacci, all buff-looking literary deities with expressions as intense as those of my small hound dogs on a scent. It’s probably hard to appear laid back when you write in the shadow of Ragnarok.

I’d seen writers with entourages before, but none that I recall with such obvious security guards as those traveling with Thor. Apparently the extra precautions date from the publication of his New York Times #1 bestseller a few years back. The plot of that book, The Last Patriot, revolved around a supposed final revelation from the Prophet Muhammed whose depiction inspired death threats.

For a Dallas audience, Thor’s current release (which also debuted on the NYT bestseller list) involved a prospect, if anything, more terrifying than the fumings of jihadists: an artificially enhanced version of African hemorrhagic fever, a sort of Ebola virus on steroids.

You had to live in my East Dallas neighborhood to appreciate the media frenzy unleashed when a Liberian man visiting relatives here was diagnosed with Ebola last fall, further infecting two nurses at a local hospital. News helicopters circled a nearby apartment complex where one of the nurses lived, following mass phone calls from the City of Dallas to residents warning them of the contagion. Fortunately, the nurses survived. Unfortunately, the patient from Liberia did not.

Back to Thor and his book. As might be expected for someone who’s been a frequent guest of right wing guru Glenn Beck, he’s wildly popular in Dallas, making his third appearance at the HPB flagship store on Northwest Highway.

Still, he at least tried to brush off the insinuation that he’s only a darling of the tea party set. “I have readers on both sides of the aisle,” he said, citing both Newt Gingrich and a former member of President Jimmy Carter’s administration. Concerns about national security, he said, can and should cut across political parties. “When al-Qaeda hit the World Trade Center, they didn’t do it because they thought it was full of Republications.”

Code of Conduct opens with hero Harvath speeding his beautiful current girlfriend, Lara Cordero, toward a plane that will transport her to a remote spot in Alaska. It’s a location where, Harvath hopes, she will be safe from a deadly virus unleashed on the world by billionaire philanthropist turned crackpot Pierre Damien. The story immediately backtracks one week, when the head of a medical charity receives video of gunmen breaking into a clinic in one of the most war-torn regions in the world, the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Why would anyone want to exterminate a small family medical clinic, especially while wearing biohazard suits? What's in the smoking pit in the video's last frame? (And by the way, what part does beautiful Mossad spy Helena, whom Thor appears to be saving for a sequel, have to do with all this?)

This was my first reading of a Brad Thor thriller, and although I have some qualms, I tore through Code of Conduct almost as fast as I put together the 500-piece dinosaur jigsaw puzzle I scooped up from HPB on the same visit and pondering advice for readers. Frst, if you’re going on pilgrimage to Mecca this year, take plenty of sanitizer. Second, that flu shot you always intend to get and then find an excuse not to? This time around, get it. Just don’t ask me why.

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