“The Last Patriot” Brad Thor (Simon and Schuster) – novel review

The Last Patriot Brad Thor book coverThis is the 12th Scot Harvath novel but the first time I’ve met him and his author Brad Thor.  In “The Last Patriot” Scot, a former Navy SEAL and counter-terrorism agent, and his girlfriend Tracy are in Paris enjoying some time together as Tracy recuperates after having had a bomb blow up on her.  She’s suffering headaches but hiding them from Scot.  From a quiet cafe, Scott notices a man pop open the locks on a Peugeot and move it down the street.  A Mercedes parks in the Peugeot’s place.  Scot and Tracy leave the cafe, but stand aside to let someone pass.  As they do so, Scot notices the Mercedes driver, now standing on the pavement at the end of the block, check a photograph and press a remote device.  Scot pushes the man they stood aside to let pass back into the cafe and lies on top of him as the car bomb is detonated.  In confusion after the bomb going off, the man disappears but not before Scot gets his wallet and learns the man is Dr Anthony Nichols.

Tracy and Scot trace Dr Anthony Nichols back to his hotel room.  Interrogating him, Scot learns Dr Nichols is working for the President officially as an archivist, unofficially with specific regard to the Jefferson archive particularly Jefferson’s studies of the Koran to help him learn more about the pirates off the Barbary coast who believed killing non Muslims was justified and discovered there was a last revelation of Mohammed which is not in the Koran, and is in Paris to collect a rare book, an edition of “Don Quixote” that belonged to Thomas Jefferson believed to be notated with a code that will unlock the last revelation.  Scot uses contacts to take Dr Nichols and Tracy to a safe house, reluctantly Scot agrees to help the professor who clearly has not been trained to cope with being the target of a professional terrorist.  Scot meets with the book dealer, but both are held at gunpoint and escorted towards the book fair exit.  As they approach the exit, the gunman uses Scot as a shield to shoot police.  Scot takes advantage of the gunman’s distraction to escape with the dealer.  The dealer helps them through an alternative exit.  Through the dealer they learn the book is held in a mosque in one of the dodgier areas of Paris.

Meanwhile man is arrested in a park in Washington for the apparent murder of his apparent lover Nura Khalifa, niece of Dr Khalifa.  Dr Khalifa was studying papers, believed to be from the Koran, found at an archaeological dig in Yemen.  Nura Khalifa is a reluctant member of Foundation on American Islamic Relations (FAIR) and the man believes he was recruited as a NOC into the FBI to infiltrate FAIR under a mission called Glass Canyon.  As soon as the man starts talking about NOCs and the FBI, the police are only too happy to hand him over to the CIA.  The CIA are sceptical at first but then the man mentions top secret project and, pulling through the project files, a CIA Agent comes across a record that doesn’t make sense.  A Matthew Dodds is listed as killed in action, remains not found but there is no evidence that he was killed so he should have been listed as missing in action.  The CIA agent starts investigating.

It then becomes a race.  Can Scot and Dr Nichols unlock the code and get to the last revelation before the terrorists who are hell-bent on murdering anyone involved and destroying any evidence pointing to a last revelation?  Tracy is hospitalised and treated in intensive care for swelling on her brain and Scot needs answers before the French police arrest her as they are convinced she and Scot are somehow connected with the car bombing and the shooting at the book fair.  Action moves from France to the States as it becomes apparent that Glass Canyon was set up by FAIR to infiltrate itself to weed out weaker members and the man arrested in Washington was actually reporting to the missing CIA agent who faked his own death and converted to Islam after his wife and child were killed.  The pace picks up, the body count mounts – noticeably Scot only kills in self-defence but the FAIR terrorists kill indiscriminately – and the plot holds up as it moves towards its denouement. 

Brad Thor is careful to differentiate between the majority of peaceful Muslims and the extremists in the fictional FAIR.  The last revelation of Mohammed doesn’t exist, although Brad Thor makes the concept credible, and then contents hinted at rather than fully revealed.   And the moment of author vanity when it’s revealed Scot’s treasured gun has ‘Thor’ engraved on it is forgivable. 

Less forgivable is the moment of author intrusion at the end of the prologue where Nura Khalifa’s contact meets her in the park and Brad Thor feels obliged to tell the reader “had he been paying attention… he might have had time to react to the two men who sprang from the shadows.”  I don’t want to be told, I want to know what it felt like for Andrew whose attention was on Nura to suddenly be grabbed and overpowered.  The author intrusion pulls away the suspense and detracts from the scene.  But it wouldn’t make me hesitate to pick up another Brad Thor novel.

The novel-as-screenplay approach, where the initial chapters show brief shots of new characters and it doesn’t really get going until we catch up with Scot and Tracy in Paris, works very well here because the underlying novel is strong and holds the story well.  Brad Thor’s writing is very visual.  It’s rare we hear anything other than the explosions, alarms, gunshots or dialogue, or have smells described – a non smelling mosque, Paris without the scent of coffee and crepes, no musty paper and wood smells at the book fair – this storyteller’s in a hurry to get on with the plot.

Simon and Schuster’s website is here, but it’s still telling me I need to upgrade my browser to IE7 or later when I’m using IE8 so I still can’t ‘see’ the site.

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