Reviewer Steve Moore: Steve is a full-time writer and ex-scientist. Besides his many technical publications, he has written six sci-fi thrillers (one a novel for young adults), many short stories, and frequent comments on writing and the digital revolution in publishing. His interests also include physics, mathematics, genetics, robotics, forensics, and scientific ethics. Follow Here for his WEBSITE.
Author: John L. Betcher
Do you need an entertaining and action-packed book for your summer reading? This is it! A very realistically portrayed terrorist attack in an unusual setting provided me with a nerve-wrenching adrenalin rush. If you’re into suspenseful thrillers, try this one on for size
Author: John L. Betcher
Do you need an entertaining and action-packed book for your summer reading? This is it! A very realistically portrayed terrorist attack in an unusual setting provided me with a nerve-wrenching adrenalin rush. If you’re into suspenseful thrillers, try this one on for size.
That said, let me calm down a little and pass on some less emotional words about Mr. Betcher’s writing. In the banner to my website I have running quotes and one of them reads: “The difference between fiction and reality? Fiction has to make sense.” This piece of writing philosophy is due to Tom Clancy.
Often reality just doesn’t make sense. For example, the recent spy case discovered by the FBI where I found out some of my neighbors were Russian spies—inept and ineffective, to say the least, but still the situation was a throwback to the Cold War. If I had written a story like that, it wouldn’t have seemed real!
Mr. Betcher, on the other hand, has written a novel that makes alarming sense. The yarn he spins is about an al Qaeda attack on Minnesota’s Prairie River Nuclear Power Plant. And the jihadists find help as they enlist two homegrown anarchists and a Three Mile Island survivor with a vendetta against nuclear power plants. These fundamentalists are a formidable team. Their efforts are aided by a complacent security group that seems incapable of listening to our lawyer hero Becker’s warnings. The peaceful Midwestern setting is in danger of becoming ground zero for a nuclear tragedy.
There is no mystery here. The terrorists have a plan and it is up to ex-intelligence operative Becker to stop them. As usual in suspense novels, the author throws up all kinds of roadblocks in our hero’s way. These increase the tension and reflect on the Clancy quote: does it make sense if the hero succeeds? To the author’s credit, the conclusion is not that obvious. And I certainly won’t ruin the read by giving away the ending. There is nail-biting enjoyment to be had by not knowing.
I also reviewed Betcher’s other novel, The Missing Element. While that was an entertaining read, this novel is better. If you worry about such things, these novels can be read independently—in fact, I’m not quite sure about their chronological order. The 19th Element, a thriller, focus more on Becker and contains more interesting action while The Missing Element, a mystery, has the same main characters, including Becker, more fleshed out. You will probably like them both. I did.
In my own fiction and in my blog posts I have written about our complacency towards terrorism. How many nuclear plants are there in the U.S.? I took a tour down the Hudson from West Point a few weeks ago and sailed past one. It didn’t look too secure. How many chemical storage tank facilities are there in the U.S.? Private enterprise passes the buck to government with respect to protecting these and government doesn’t have enough manpower to cover the “soft spots.” Manhattan, D.C., and other cities’ transportation systems and other infrastructure are very vulnerable. Major shopping centers might as well have targets painted on them.
You may call me an alarmist but this is the reality of terrorism. We treat terrorism in our fiction in order to create suspenseful stories. But maybe we’re giving the bad guys too many ideas. They really do want to hurt us. The saving grace so far is that the terrorists have been incompetent. The bomb in Times Square didn’t go off, for example. If it had…well, there were a lot of people in Times Square that balmy summer evening.
Part of our complacency is surely due to the fact that we feel far away from all those problems in the Mideast. I don’t understand this at all. After 9/11 and recognizing that we have long, mostly unguarded borders, I can’t believe we’re impervious to foreign infiltration. And don’t forget those homegrown types like the Times Square bomber. Our complacency is not justified.
John Betcher’s description of how the terrorist attack on the power plant is planned, with technical details all in place, is far too real. It satisfies Clancy’s criterion completely. As a consequence, this fictional account should scare you out of your socks. Let it be a warning. A corollary to Clancy’s quote might be: If it makes sense, it could become real. This is a service offered by fiction authors to the reading public that is often overlooked. Be entertained but aware of the warnings between the lines.