Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Wordcraft – A presidential assassination, Russian style

The First Order
by Jeff Abbott
It’s January and fans of Austin, Texas, thriller writer Jeff Abbott have been wondering since last summer: what has Sam Capra been up to now? For the past few years, Abbott’s thrillers starring ex-CIA agent Capra have been coming out each July, something chilling to get readers through a long hot summer. Instead, the latest installment, The First Order, is out in the cold of winter, a suitable time for a book about the plot to assassinate an autocratic, plutocratic ex-KGB agent who happens to be president of Russia. Oh, and slaying is scheduled to happen at the hands of a U.S. killer and on U.S. soil.

Before diving for cover from the missiles of World War III, rest assured that the Russian president in question is the completely fictional Dmitri Morozov. Any resemblance between Morozov and current Russian president and billionaire ex-KGB agent Vladimir Putin is, of course, purely coincidental.

In fact, Abbott told his audience at the Barnes & Noble Booksellers in Dallas’ Lincoln Park, he had been happily at work and on schedule on another book in the Sam Capra series. Then he happened to mention his idea for the Russian assassination involving one of the most fiendish cases of poisoning since Agatha Christie to his agent and was told, “That’s the book you’re going to get to write.”

The result, a delayed publication date for a book destined to keep readers awake and turning pages through these long (but all too short for readers) winter nights.

Ousted from the CIA, Sam Capra now works for a shadowy private justice league called The Round Table, whose members are the cream of intelligence workers in half a dozen countries, with enough wealth (whether well- or ill-gotten) to give him a cover as the owner or a string of glitzy bars in trendy locations around the world. So why in the opening scene is Capra in Afghanistan, hardly a see and be seen spot for high-flying celebrities and a far departure from Abbott’s usual glamorous settings?

But it’s also the place where Sam’s beloved older brother Danny, disappeared six years ago while on a humanitarian mission.

Although videos of Danny Capra’s execution appeared for sale in Afghanistan and neighboring countries, is body was never found. Now Sam has information that may lead him to Danny’s grave. Or to proof that Danny still lives and that everything Sam has based his life on has been a lie.

Whether alive or dead, the first order of the globe-trotting Capra family still holds: “we don’t ever leave each other behind,” even though bringing Danny home could become very, very complicated by the ongoing plot to assassinate the Russian president. And exactly what is the connection between the long-missing aid worker and a shadowy assassin who calls himself Philip Judge?

With degrees in English and history from Rice University, Abbott admits reveling in the writing of The First Order. To a dab of the inner-circle assassination plot of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, he adds a borrowing from recent Russian history (and thanks his Russian history professor at Rice for inspiring a lifelong interest).

Although there are a few rough spots, which may indicate the hurried writing (or possibly hurried editing), any reader who fears the similarity of Abbott’s title to a certain recent movie can be assured that Abbott’s trademark three-dimensional characters including “a Russian version of Paris Hilton”, often gruesome violence and a plot that sends pundits and paparazzi flying reads more like “Downton Abbey on acid” than anything from a galaxy far, far away.

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