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by Gary J. Cross

Pub Date: Jan. 25th, 2011
ISBN: 978-1617390692
Publisher: Tate/Abrams

An American contractor in Iraq hatches a scheme to grab a cache of cash uncovered at an old Ba’aht hideout before the Army can get the money back to the States.

Bowe LaDeau is a bad man. He’s an opportunistic war contractor, a Machiavellian near-genius who anticipated the windfall for the military-support industry and positioned himself early to be a part of the action. While working in Iraq, LaDeau catches wind of a monumental discovery—more than $300 million in American bills found in a building that the locals connect with that founding member of the Axis of Evil, Saddam Hussein. As soon as he hears the news, LaDeau makes his play for the cash. Conspiracies, intimidation and murder follow, and no one—not even dead American soldiers—gets away unscathed. While the narration occasionally floats over to soldiers as they search for Saddam, discover cabinets filled with cash and photos and encounter a deadly roadside bomb, readers mostly follow LaDeau and his cronies, which proves to be great fun. It’s like watching the action of Oliver Twist from Fagin’s perspective, and the book keeps the tension high by allowing us to encounter danger as the thieves encounter it, and by keeping the soldiers and the investigators at a distance. However, the characters are thin, caricature-level portraits, with all the villains sporting exaggerated accents (say LaDeau’s full name out loud to get a sense of how cartoonish he is), while the soldiers and Iraqi nationals are portrayed as instinctively good-natured and dutiful, a characterization that undervalues the serious psychological toll and sacrifice that war exacts from combatants and civilians. With its flat characterizations, strained transitions and pages and pages of curt, declarative sentences, the writing hinders full enjoyment of the adventure.

Amateurish writing issues abound, but a ghoulishly fun thriller nonetheless.