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
Publisher: Create Space
Author: John L. Betcher
Publisher: Create Space
The Exiled Element is the fourth book in the series that features ex-military intelligence officer James Becker (Beck), his ex-CIA crypto-analyst wife Elizabeth (Beth), and assorted friends. Beck is a lawyer in Red Wing, Minnesota. Nevertheless, considering the Becker couple’s background, even the uninitiated will guess that author John Betcher does not write legal thrillers. Every book in the “Element Series” is somehow related to counter-terrorism.
I had the privilege of reviewing two of the author’s previous books in this series. This one is more international in scope—at least for half of the husband-and-wife team. It asks the question: How frail is the Arab Spring in general and portrays a post-Spring power struggle in Egypt in particular. Considering that the ex-dictator Hosni Mubarak was just sentenced to life in prison and that the light sentence has stirred more unrest during this critical time before elections, this novel is a current and frightening look at how fragile young democracies can be.
Beth travels to Egypt but Beck stays in Red Wing. Mr. Betcher can’t leave Red Wing without its strife as Beck and friends track down a U.S. senator’s assassin. What’s the connection between Cairo and Red Wing? Now, really! Do you think I would just give that away?
Red Wing reminds me of that little Maine fishing village where Jessica Fletcher, of Murder, She Wrote fame, lived. (Jessica is played by actor Angela Lansbury, one of my favorites, and still going strong in a new play on Broadway, Gore Vidal’s The Best Man.) Beck always manages to become involved in some fast-paced action in Red Wing, although it’s a sleepy town tucked away from the twin cities. Jessica managed to always find a murder to solve every week. Mary Higgins Clark and Carla Neggers often do the same in their mysteries. Lee Child repeats the feat in his Jack Reacher thrillers.
One mark of a good thriller or mystery writer is the ability to make intrigue and violence in a small town or rural setting entirely plausible. Several of David Baldacci’s novels also come to mind here. However, the feat is more than mere plausibility. The simple setting magnifies and intensifies the audacity and evilness of the perpetrators of the crime.
John Betcher joins the ranks of the authors mentioned above (I suppose there were several for Murder, She Wrote). He does it in a sly and underhanded manner, though, via the connection mentioned above that I wouldn’t give away. It’s very clever writing. Entertaining, too.
Describing Beth’s assignment in Cairo also required research on the author’s part. After the bloody Arab Spring uprisings (still going on if we count Syria), U.S. media dropped coverage of subsequent events in the various affected countries. Mr. Betcher obviously kept up with the events taking place in Cairo. His robust descriptions of locales either come from a visit or two to Egypt or an inside connection with Google maps’ gurus. Red Wing is easy to describe; Cairo is chaotic.
The story jumps around a bit at the beginning in both space and time. Chapter subtitles help orient the reader—don’t ignore them. Somewhere along the way, you learn that Egypt’s new president has been assassinated. At the very end of the novel, you learn why. This is related to but not the same thing as that previous connection I mentioned. However, it all seems superfluous. I could see the story marching along well enough without it.
There is intense action in Red Wing and Cairo that is the norm for this genre. Suspense, intrigue, and violent action—aren’t these the characteristics of the greatest play in the world, Hamlet? Many movies and video games add a visual component to this. I always find it more interesting to read about it, though, in thriller novels like this one, because the reader can use his own imagination to fill in the details. Good thriller writers describe just enough to allow their readers to do precisely that. I call it minimalist writing. Mr. Betcher has mastered it.
One feature of the plot both pleased and disappointed me. I was able to get to know Beck’s Native American friend Bull much better. Moreover, towards the end of the book, I thought he was going to find romance with an Egyptian lady. Alas, it was not to be! Mr. Betcher, you can be cruel sometimes.
If you’re looking for a
good fast-paced thriller to read this summer, or anytime, try The
Exiled Element. You won’t be disappointed.
Follow Here To Purchase The Exiled Element: A James Becker Thriller (Volume 4)