Author: John Betcher

Publisher: Amazon Digital Services


This author continues to release entertaining and interesting thrillers in his John Becker series. For those readers not familiar with previous books, the protagonist Beck, now a lawyer, was a special ops type. He’s aging now but still managing to get into trouble.

This time Beck is dueling with North Korean agents in home state Minnesota. They are intent on carrying out their revered leader’s plan for mass murder on American soil. Confusing the issue is a financially stressed veterinary supplies salesman bent on initiating a plague of foot-and-mouth disease in U.S. livestock. The first plan is more of a stretch than the second (except for the target), but the reader will find Beck’s analysis of a terrorist’s mindset at the end of the book is spot on. This analysis effectively explains that no idea is too absurd for a sick, psychotic person with his mental wires frayed and crossed. (The “underwear bomber” offers more real-life evidence if you need it.)

The first plan’s terrorist is the current North Korean dictator, a man bent on proving he’s worse than grandpa and daddy. His hard-line rhetoric and imposed personality cult are portrayed well enough here to serve as good back-story. The delivery mechanism for the material his spies in the U.S. are ordered to use is the part that’s a stretch, albeit original—let’s hope the North Koreans don’t try it!

Beck seems more tongue-in-cheek in this outing and thus takes on more of a James Bond role. That makes the terrorist threats less fantastic. If you think of Carl Hiaasen meets Ian Fleming, you can see why the story is a lot of fun. The scammer, who discovers what North Korea delivered to its agents and tries to make money with it, adds to the fun.

Of course, counterterrorism is a serious subject, as recent events have shown. We should never forget 9/11 or Oklahoma City, nor the attacks in Spain, England, and elsewhere. Although Beck has a more serious counterterrorism role in previous books, his humorous spin on the serious events of this story can be taken as laughing at his, and our own, humanity, not terrorism. It is an interesting contrast.

Many of the characters from previous books play a role in this book too—Beck’s wife, computer and encryption expert; the Native American friend, silent and lethal; and the Deputy Sheriff, sometimes clumsy but surprisingly competent. The author treats them now as old friends. You should too as you settle down to enjoy this book.

My only nitpick is minor: this “Element Series” has stretched the word “element” a bit too far. I have no idea here what element is critical. I prefer titles that tell me something about the book—a series title should describe the series. Here “element” does neither one, but this is still a fine and well-written book.

Follow Here To Purchase The Critical Element (A James Becker Suspense/Thriller)

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