When the Cold War sputtered and came to a halt, espionage thriller writers found themselves scrambling for new plotlines. A few ignored the change and some began writing historical fiction, but many moved the spying from politics to corporate espionage. The problem was simple: a Russian and an American (or Brit) pretty much look the same; but modern conflicts pit westerners against Asian enemies and natives of the Middle East. It’s tough to write a part for Brad Pitt or Tom Cruise as an Arab or Persian without invoking plastic surgery.
But then along came Bosnians and Chechens – Moslems who look less like Osama bin Laden and more like Zorba the Greek; some even with pale(-ish) complexions and light hair. A new breed of spies was born – and Anderson Harp’s man William Parker is at the vanguard.
Osama bin Laden may be dead, but his heir apparent lives on: meet Yousef al-Qadi, a shirttail relative of the House of Saud, who lives an austere existence in a remote village near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. Like his predecessor, however, Yousef is a well-funded fanatic; a fanatic who intends to act as midwie at the rebirth of the fabled Caliphate (c.f. the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, also known as ISIL). Also like his predecessor, Yousef considers westerners his enemies and the greatest among them is the Americans.
To counter this well-hidden, well-protected terrorist, the American CIA calls on William Parker. The Company has apparently used the polyglot retired attorney before to the tune of several million dollars. Instead of money, the CIA’s carrot for Parker is a chance to get even: Yousef, they tell him, masterminded the bombing of Pan Am flight 103, on which both Parker’s parents perished. He’s hooked in a heartbeat. The plot is surprisingly simple: Parker will replace a Bosnian journalist Yousef has contacted to be his “Bosworth,” a mechanism for disseminating his fatwah against western imperialism in the Middle East. At the meeting, he’ll pass along a hitchhiker, a nasty strain of meningitis almost guaranteed to wipe out Yousef and his entire cadre – and William Parker will have his Retribution.
Of course, the best-laid plans, etc…
Anderson Harp’s Retribution is the second novel to feature the William Parker character, although the first (Northern Thunder) was published under the name Andy Harp. Harp’s protagonist suffers from a lack of back story, since the author apparently expects the two books to be read in chronological order, a little tough since the earlier novel is apparently out of print. Vague references to a “North Korean affair” do little to inform, only to confuse.
On the plus side, Retribution shows some inventiveness, in particular a plot in which the spy sneaks in carrying a biological weapon and is supposed to sneak out after infecting his hosts. Of course, since the author is an ex-Marine, you can expect at least one lovingly-described firefight with Marines arriving in fine deus ex machina-style. Other hoary tropes of the genre are liberally sprinkled throughout, such as the obligatory indestructible mercenary (see the long-haired eastern European who refuses to die until pushed out of an airplane or off the roof of a skyscraper by the hero) and the usual double-dealing bureaucrats protecting their jobs.
Harp’s focus is on action and, as a consequence, his characterizations are weak and emphasize military skills; with loving descriptions of esprit de corps and inter-service rivalry. On the other hand, the motivations of the secondary villain are virtually impenetrable and several chapters are so ill-connected to the plot that they could almost be part of a different book.
Overall, an average thriller; one that will appeal to fans of nonstop action but leave more thoughtful readers disappointed.