Book Review: Is New York Burning

The World Famous Dynamic Duo of the Non-Fiction genre – Lapierre and Collins – writing a thriller? And a terror-plot based thriller to boot? Sounds like a nightmarish concept at first. Well, think again. While it is obvious that this is not their cup of tea, the book is excellent and reasonably enthralling. I was surprised that they managed to keep my attention right till the last page. Yes, there are weaknesses in the novel, but there is enough good material in it for it to qualify as a class effort. 

Hackneyed is the word that first comes to mind as it starts with the same old Iraq angle again; but with a interesting twist. This time, it is not the Iraqis as the bad boys – but the Palestinians, and the Israel conflict has been used as the backdrop. Some  - “Gentlemen” – want to pressurize Israel into submission which is not a task to be taken lightly. I for one cannot imagine anyone or anything pressuring Israel into anything! Happily, the novel takes note of this, and the gentlemen in question hatch an ingenious plan to use  USA to achieve their objective. The brilliant plan nearly succeeds, as the Americans are forced to take note – serious note – of the Palestinian problem. 

The plot is straightforward – plop a bomb in New York, and ask the Americans to pressurize the Israelis to vacate the post-1967 settlements. Simple. Very simple. Except for one tiny detail – you don’t tell the Isrealis what to do; especially not on the rather sensitive matter of the Gaza Strip. The Israelis refuse to cooperate; leaving the Americans with a most inconvenient problem. Simultaneously, the police and FBI start their investigation and try to trace the the whereabouts of the bomb. These twin story-lines intertwine, with the question being what will save the day – realpolitic, or policework?

The charectarisation is non-existent. That is not surprising; the thriller is not the forte of this Dynamic Duo. They are famous for their historical novels – where there is no need for imagery and character development. This shows in the novel. No character is strong enough (in the fictional set) to deserve a mention here. The problem is at 2 levels; one being stated above. The other problem is that the fictional characters have not been given any space in the novel. The novel is taken up almost entirely by the real-world figures of Bush, Rice, Sharon, Powell etc. This does not leave much space for the fictional characters’ background and character development. 

The pace is reasonably fast; the book – while not being a page-turner – holds attention throughout till the last page, and is decently paced. This is in keeping with the narrative style and the story flow – which alternates between the political and the investigative scenarios. And this is where, in my humble opinion, the authors have gone slightly wrong; the investigative scenario – while extremely lifelike and convincing, comes across as slightly contrived. The political scenario appears to be overdone, with an inordinate emphasis being placed on it – especially considering that the investigative team solves the imbroglio, while the politicians do nothing except talk, talk and talk – which, of course, is par for the course for politicians. The net result of this is a simplistic investigation – as there is just no space for the investigation in the novel. The other unconvincing part is the ease with which the bomb is found; overall the plot seems to weaken here. 

Overall, the book makes for a fascinating blend of the real with the fictional. This is probably the first of its kind; and is very likely the first in its genre. The usage of real world characters fleshes out the book and makes for interesting reading. The authors’ signature style of eulogizing one character over and above all else is evident even here with the portrayal of Condoleeza Rice. Furthermore, it was also refreshing to read a positive portrayal of George Bush. All the real world characters are true to their largely understood roles – yes, even Bush. We must not forget that an idiot does not get a degree from Yale and Harvard and the go on to become the President. And it was fun reading the Israeli responses – which were entirely along expected lines

All in all, it is a highly interesting book that is on a completely different tangent. It is unique in the world of thrillers with its combination of the real world with the fictional. The treatment is powerful – so much so, that you are left wondering if this actually a novel as is claimed by the book cover – or is it a report on something that has actually happened in the USA during the Bush presidency? It feels eerily real; and that is the biggest achievement of this book…


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