Reviewer Dr. Wesley Britton: Dr. Britton is the author of four non-fiction books on espionage in literature and the media. Starting in fall 2015, his new six-book science fiction series, The Beta-Earth Chronicles, debuted via BearManor Media. For seven years, he was co-host of online radio’s Dave White Presents where he contributed interviews with a host of entertainment insiders. Before his retirement in 2016, Dr. Britton taught English at Harrisburg Area Community College. Learn more about Dr. Britton at his WEBSITE
Author: Andy Owen
Publisher: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
The first sentence of Andy Owen's Invective reads "You can call me Ishmael." Clearly Owen is evoking Herman Melville's 1851 Moby-Dick, and an awareness of that novel would aid readers exploring this contemporary reworking of Melville's tale of, among other matters, revenge, hate, and self-discovery.
According to Owen, Invective came about as a result of his 7 years in British military intelligence running sources within extremist groups in both Afghanistan and Iraq. After reading Moby-Dick, he was struck by the similarities between some characters in the novel and people he was working both for and against. In particular, he saw the drives for individuals to associate themselves with causes to give their lives meaning, the urges for adventure, and an existential angst that motivates Jihadists to believe suicide is the path for spiritual fulfillment.
The saga of the new Ishmael opens when the British-raised 23 year old learns his birth father was a Jihadist suicide bomber who killed himself when Ishmael was only one year old. From that point on, Ishmael is torn between two cultures, the Western world he grew up in and the Muslim beliefs he has come to embrace. At the beginning of the book, he's drawn into spying on a terrorist group for British intelligence while he's equally uncertain he can betray his Islamic brothers. He sees a terrible balance between the two sides. On one, he witnesses terrorist bombs blowing up innocent civilians. On the other, he is damaged by a drone strike where the bomb comes from the sky. Who can claim moral superiority in these circumstances?
In Invective, the Ahab figure is Mujahid Al-Hab ("the alpha wolf"), the terrorist leader whose quest is to seek out "The White Sheik" for further training in the Pakistani mountains. The Sheik, apparently, was once an American named Peter Milville who left his former life to become a Jihadist. Another character obviously drawn from Moby-Dick is Kwesi Queg, the pigeon English speaking African whose face is marred by scars. Of course, he's based on the tattooed Polynesian harpoonist, Queequeg. Throughout, there's plenty of overt imagery (Killer whales, leviathans) to remind readers of the parallels Owen sees between Melville's 19th century fiction and our world now.
Invective is far from a spy novel. Ishmael's involvement with British intelligence is mainly a means for Owen to give government officers a platform to recite their perspectives on winning the War on Terror and their very narrow views on the motivations of terrorists. But from the beginning of his "mission," Ishmael gives his handlers minimal information and indeed takes measures to thwart their surveillance of him. While he questions the invective of the arrogant and vicious leadership of Muj, he finds himself understanding why those who hate the Great Satan feel the way they do, even if their views are often shaped more by charismatic leaders than any real ideology. Still, despite his questions, it's for the small band of would-be Jihadists that Ishmael feels his strongest bonds.
Invective is also not action-adventure. While Mug's cell goes on a journey that takes them from England to Pakistan by land and sea, nothing really happens along the way, at least not until the final drone strike. Were there more conflict and duels with man and nature on this part of the trek, perhaps this short novel would have found a wider readership. Instead, it's a very talkie, introspective, psychological drama that, at its best, should blow away stereotypical views of who the Jihadists of the world actually are. Like many a Cold War espionage story, Owen reminds us why insiders often see a moral hypocrisy on both sides.
In fact, putting Moby- Dick aside, Invective is square in the tradition of books beginning with Joseph Conrad's 1907 The Secret Agent. Then, the violence of terrorism came from anarchists. Were their motives substantially different from Islamic anger? Such are the questions Invective raises, and these are important questions to explore in greater depth than black-and-white dichotomies. So Invective is a book to read if you want your preconceptions of modern terrorism challenged.