Archaeologists make a stunning discovery in a pass high in the French – Italian Alps, but do not live to tell the tale. A year later, Islamic scientists begin dying in seeming accidents or outright assassinations and kidnappings all around the world. And then a US army unit moves into the peaceful, multi-religion village of Asalaam near Mosul in Iraq. They are checking up on some Christian missionaries who haven't been heard of but are startled to find half the village dead from a horrible, flu like disease with some very nasty symptoms. Scott Harvath is a Navy SEAL turned covert counter-terrorism agent who authorities turn to when the connections between these events start to become clear. Harvath, and through him The President of the US, have other problems as well as Democrat Senator Helen Cunningham is on the trail of both of them, trying to prove that there is something else going on with covert operations.
Harvath must go out alone and try to stop a deadly biological weapon from being distributed in America. He must also stop his arch enemy Khalid Sheik Alomari, a high-ranking al-Qaeda operative and ruthless assassin. Alomari is killing Muslim scientists who may have unlocked the key to a devastating super weapon.
There are two broad classifications into which thrillers that I read seem to fit. The totally over the top, almost cartoon like, take your disbelief and hang it in the wardrobe, wild ride type – along the lines of Austin Powers, Colin Forbes', even James Bond to a certain degree. Then there are the psychological, the creepy, the leave the lights on, fasten your seatbelts, things could get hairy here types – in this category Tom Clancy, Len Deighton, John LeCarre, Robert Ludlum, Scott Turow and Frederick Forsyth and many many others. If you get lucky occasionally some of these books can switch between the two categories seamlessly without affecting your overall enjoyment of any of the book. No matter how much I think about BLOWBACK I simply can't decide which category it was aiming for.
It's a great premise – a biological weapon that once threatened the Roman Empire is back with the potential to wipe out huge parts of the world. Perhaps a bit far-fetched in some people's minds, but the premise of the book really appealed to me. I didn't even mind the movie-script like style and could have forgiven some of the frankly utterly outlandish scenes - a supposedly disgraced and in hiding operative not all that hard to spot and certainly in communication with a lot of people; sensationalist paragliding across borders; suddenly producing large numbers of gliders out of nowhere; European countries that didn't seem to mind a heavily armed one man revenge band charging around over their borders; a seemingly never ending stream of money to bribe everyone and a scientist who just suddenly manages to climb a huge ice-covered mountain, having never even attempted anything remotely like this (not even the climbing of a small rock in the backyard) with just the hero to “carry her through”.
Where the book was greatly underwhelming, and I think, the premise poorly served, was that the whole thing was presented in way too black and white a manner with too much predictability and bland characterisation. No doubt about it, many of the the action scenes were exciting and well written, but the existence of the weapon and how it survived was brush stroke and questionable at best, the connection between the weapon and the intra-Muslim faith tensions too self-serving; and the various political conspiracies way too convenient. The whole thing reeked of a one sided partisan cheer squad.
Perhaps your political perspective can affect summation of this book, but I felt that it was a great idea, muddied by a whole lot of convenient nefarious goings on, which contributed little to the thrill and nothing to the action.