Tag Archives: Nelson DeMille

Nelson DeMille’s The Panther, Part 2 (and the end)

If I hadn’t committed myself to blog about this book, I probably wouldn’t have finished reading it. But I realized that most of my complaints are about the storytelling, and not Arabic or Arab culture.

The idea of an al-Qaeda hit list and, better yet, a CIA hit list (of American law enforcement personnel) have nothing to do with Arabic or Arab culture, so I guess there’s no point in talking about how ludicrous it is. And the fact that this book is so steeped in testosterone I felt like I should go sit around in my OBGYN’s office for a few hours to normalize is irrelevant, too.

But to go back to a couple passages I marked:

“Right. And don’t forget that The Panther is an American. So maybe he thinks more clearly and logically than most of these whacked-out jihadists.”

I mean, that’s annoying as hell, but it’s spoken by a character, not an omniscient narrator.

And also not relevant is the protagonist, John Corey, epitomizing mansplaining as he talks to a medical doctor:

“That’s about it.” I reminded her, “Aim for the center mass of the target. Heart is on the right.”

“Left.”

“His left, your right, Doctor.”

More insight into our protagonist here:

And not a bad technique. Like, “Hey Abdul, let’s talk about camel grazing rights. And by the way, how much do you want for your wife?”

har har

So, that’s all I have. Can’t recommend the book, even just for laughs. And to think I really loved Plum Island.

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Nelson DeMille’s The Panther, part one

A couple days ago I started reading The Panther by Nelson DeMille. “Yay,” I thought, “Finally another book to write about on my blog. Almost nobody writes novels with Arab villains these days.” But Mr. DeMille came through.

Rather than wait until I finish it, I’m going to start with my thoughts so far, as they are many, plus I just got to something that really tickled my funny bone.

I’ve mentioned in my previous posts about Nelson DeMille’s Arab-related novels that he really seems fascinated almost to the level of having a fetish about Arab names. The villain of two of his previous novels was named Asad Something or Other. Asad is a very common proper name and it means lion, and throughout both books the author or perhaps the narrator just couldn’t stop comparing the human being to a lion.

Arab names are a lot more likely to be words still in use in Arabic, unlike names in English, which come from all kinds of languages so that we often have no idea what their original meaning was. Nevertheless, being named Asad in the Arab world is very much like being named Mike or Jim or Dave in the US. No big deal.

Protagonist John Corey killed “The Lion” in a previous novel. His new nemesis is “The Panther.” In the case of this new guy, his given name was something else, and he actually chose to be called “the panther,” or al-numayr. (Al Numair in the novel). Numayr is a word I didn’t know, so I looked it up. I did a Google image search. I looked at over 100 image results without seeing a single picture of any kind of big cat. I saw lots and lots of pictures of Arab human beings named Numayr. (I searched on النمير, for those who wish to recreate my experience).

And what’s killing me is that John Corey can NOT think of this guy without mentally calling him “The Panther” and comparing him with a big cat. You know how you do, like when you watch golf and compare Tiger Woods to a real tiger, or listen to Charlie Parker and muse on how much like a bird he is?

Later I hope to piece together my thoughts on John Corey’s casual racism (but Arab isn’t a race!) and his Iraqi-American Muslim pal who denigrates Islam, but for now I must rush to page 208. Up to this point, John Corey has mentally or verbally referred to “The Panther” at least two dozen times (I’m estimating), and remember, the man nicknamed himself al-Numayr or Al Numair, not “The Panther”–and from what I know after 20 years of Arabic plus a lengthy google search, it is not at all a common word for panther–when he is introduced to Dr. Fahd.

Corey has nothing to say about Dr. Fahd’s name, or how much Dr. Fahd resembles any given animal. No internal musings on the prey-predator relationship or nocturnal habits or hunting ranges or anything…because John Corey doesn’t know what Fahd means. Fahd is just a man’s name.

Guess what Fahd means. “Panther.” A Google image search brings up mostly pics of cheetahs, I saw one of black leopard, and I’ve also told it can mean ‘lynx.’

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Wild Fire by Nelson DeMille

The downside is that there are no Middle Eastern terrorists in this one, and Asad “The Lion” Khalil is just a memory whose name gets brought up a couple of times by our old friend, protagonist John Corey.

John Corey is one of those characters who I get a kick out of in print or on screen, but who I would stay far away from in real life. He’s a police officer cum federal agent who never follows a rule that isn’t absolutely convenient. Yet his abrasive humor is sometimes funny, and I like funny.

The name of the book does not derive from the seventies song that has something to do with a horse. It’s supposedly the code name of an ultra super secret government program. Remember how, during the cold war, supposedly the USSR wouldn’t nuke the US because if they did, we’d nuke them right back? This was the principle of deterrence, or as DeMille calls it over and over again in the book, mutually assured destruction. Remember how Dr Strangelove made fun of this concept?

Wild Fire in the book is a supposedly current government program wherein the US has supposedly warned all the corrupt governments of the “Land of Islam” that if any weapon of mass destruction is used against the United States, the United States will automatically launch dozens of nukes against basically the whole Muslim world.

You can probably see flaws already. There’s the fact that we’d probably miss hitting anybody actually involved with the attack, that it might not have been Muslim terrorists in the first place, that we’d kill hundreds of millions of innnocents, that millions would be non-Muslims, anyway, that remaining Muslims would still be around and able to seek vengeance, that governments of Muslims countries can’t necessarily prevent a small band of determined bad guys from carrying out a terrorist attack (after all, we couldn’t), that irreplaceable wildlife and historical artifacts would be destroyed forever, etc.

Sure, you can see those flaws, but apparently most of the characters in this book can’t. Nor can the author, who mentions in an author’s note at the beginning of the book, “I personally believe that some variation of Wild Fire (by another code name) actually exists, and if it doesn’t, it should.”

The funniest thing of all is that most of the characters in the book who think Wild Fire is a good idea are motivated by their desire not to be wanded at the airport. Not to say that any of them ever have been. In fact, it’s very unlikely that any one of them has ever been inconvenienced in flying, since they are a megabillionaire, a couple of military generals, a presidential advisor, a CIA agent, and John Corey. And I think a good, baseline rule of humanity is that if you are willing to have hundreds of millions die, many of them in a really horrible ways, so that you don’t have to maybe get wanded at the airport someday, you need to immediately kill yourself.

DeMille cleverly explains how such an asinine program ever could have come to be: it was started during the Reagan years.

Now, the main antagonist, the megabillionaire, is insane. So that makes sense. It doesn’t explain why so many other characters also think that Wild Fire is a hunky-dory idea. Maybe the fact that they refer to “The Land of Islam” as “Sandland” repeatedly is a clue. It’s as if they see it as a cartoony place that nobody ever goes except people who dress funny and eat funny food. But no, they all do take time to reflect that a massive nuclear attack on “The Land of Islam” would kill millions of non-Muslims along with all those bad, bad Muslims who are all responsible for terrorism everywhere in the world. But hey, shorter lines at the airport.

DeMille, having stated that he hopes we have a system to automatically launch nukes at “The Land of Islam” in case we are attacked with WMD, nevertheless cheerfully thanks a Bob Atiyeh in the Acknowledgements. “Sure Nelson, no hard feelings about your desire to obliterate my homeland.”

DeMille wrote the book wrong. He should have had everyone sane and rational except for the bad guy. Instead, he had the presidential advisor, the generals, and the CIA man all on board with the nutcase’s plan from the get-go. Except for the CIA guy, you’d expect all of them know better than to buy any of this:

Even when the United States was attacked on its own soil–the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center–we did nothing. He looked at Harry. “Correct?”
“Yeah…but that changed things–“

Did nothing? We caught the perpetrators and put them in jail, where the are now.

“…Wild Fire is a pro-active response. It is a gun to the heads of Islamic countries–a gun that will go off if they fail to keep their terrorist friends from going nuclear. Undoubtedly most, if not all, terrorist organizations have been warned of this by the Islamic governments that harbor, aid, and have contact with them…”

Neat. All terrorist organizations, besides being Islamic, are also harbored and aided by Islamic governments, their friends. That’s why Wild Fire works!

And here’s his answer to the question of the environmental impact of dozens of nukes:

“I told you, the answer to global warming is nuclear winter. Just kidding. Look, the effects of fifty or even a hundred nuclear explosions detonating across the Mideast have been studied extensively by the government. It won’t be that bad.”

Hey, that puts my worries to rest.

This guy here has a review of the book from back in January 2007, not long after it first came out. You have to scroll down a ways to get to it.

Naturally, Madox is a right-wing nut — what would American fiction writers do without the standard right-wing nut? — but John Corey is something of a right-wing nut himself. For that matter, one has to wonder the same thing about DeMille himself, since in his foreword, speaking in his own voice, DeMille candidly says that he hopes a plan like Wild Fire exists.

Really? A plan to respond to the destruction of an American city by killing a hundred million Muslims all over the world? I suppose DeMille really means that he hopes we have told the heads of the governments of Muslim countries that such a plan exists, so they’ll keep a tight rein on the terrorists that operate in so many Islamic countries.

But to really carry out such a plan would be a monstrous crime against humanity on a par with Hitler’s and Stalin’s and Pol Pot’s. Especially since some Islamic terror groups are so fanatical that they might accept the deaths of a few hundred million Muslims as an acceptable risk — betting, of course, that the United States would never actually make good such a threat.

Bonus:

I do wish, however, that writers like DeMille would stop using the pathetically lame device of trying to persuade us that a couple of lovers (or a husband and wife) are really really really in love, by explicitly showing them having sex in some weird circumstance. In Wild Fire, it’s lovemaking on a Long Island beach in icy weather; apparently DeMille thinks it’s extremely significant to their characterization that we know who’s on top and other details.

And yet somehow we manage to get by without knowing which hand they use to hold the toilet paper, so DeMille must know there are some intimate details we just don’t need to know. Come on, my fellow novelists, don’t throw in meaninglessly detailed sex scenes — if it doesn’t tell us something that matters to the story, then get over it. You’re not twelve years old anymore, faunching over the Sears catalog, and nowadays explicit sex in fiction is a trite waste of time.

Word.

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