In Welsh’s debut thriller, a young Iraqi immigrant struggles to find a way avenge his family’s death from an American bomb.
Jafar Shakarchi is 11 years old when a 1991 bombing rips apart his Baghdad neighborhood and kills his family. Filled with hatred for America, he learns to his horror that he’s being shipped to California to live with an aunt and uncle he’s never met. It’s a hard transition, but with the help of an old Afghani bookseller with an equally tragic past, Jafar finds his footing and ultimately earns a Ph.D. in computer engineering. He has an excellent education, a beautiful girlfriend and a promising career—the makings of the American dream—yet he cannot shake his need for revenge. Against the wishes of his mentor, Ghanfani, he sets out on a path to punish those responsible for the war in Iraq. The premise has potential; however, the book suffers from a lack of character and plot development as well as believability. The prose is staccato, and each chapter confusingly shifts in time and character perspective. Sometimes the reader follows Jafar and other times a newly formed Homeland Security team. The quick changes of events and scenery create a fast pace, but it also means that the reader doesn’t get to really know any particular place or person. The story’s bright spot is the compassionate and intelligent Ghanfani, Jafar’s dearest friend and mentor. A side character, he feels more genuine than Jafar himself, who comes across as a petulant child. Welsh introduces the reader to a quirky Homeland Security team with access to a secret quantum computer that allows its members to analyze mountains of data in an effort to track down terrorists. This subplot adds interest and might have ramped up dramatic tension but feels too lightly sketched. A large number of grammatical, spelling and punctuation errors proves distracting.
Despite a solid premise, this terroristic tale doesn’t thrill.