This political thriller examines the ethics of data collection by the U.S. government going into the 2003 Iraq War.
In Washington, D.C., Karl Erskine has just begun his new job as a security tape analyst in a counterintelligence department. With state-of-the-art audio-visual equipment, Karl views footage of American citizens (filmed secretly) and takes elaborate notes on details that might emerge: travel plans, international associates, even marital infidelity. He’s forbidden to discuss his job with anyone or to know how his gathered information is used. His superiors nevertheless emphasize the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and the Patriot Act, laws that legitimize secret court hearings that allow the U.S. government to spy on citizens without their knowledge. Meanwhile, New York newspaper reporter John Bryce is tasked with visiting D.C. to learn whether or not the U.S. plans to invade Iraq against the wishes of Congress and the United Nations. As John interviews dozens of people who might have inside info on President Muller’s intentions, his life becomes the subject of the tape analyst’s work. Unbeknownst to Karl, this fact could prove deadly to the reporter. Looming even darker on the horizon is debut author Mathewson’s compelling question: “Could this foreign counterintelligence really be designed to protect a rapidly evolving police state?” The majority of this slim narrative happens at Karl’s workplace, where superiors describe—for paragraphs and sometimes pages at a time—the high security and detailed laws surrounding the job; readers will feel enlightened, though the prose tends toward stuffiness: “[W]e do not have to establish probable cause anymore, or prove that there is probable cause to believe that a crime has been committed before we can commence surveillance.” Many traditional thriller tropes, like car chases and shootouts, are missing; instead, Mathewson throws in a bit of romance and frequent villainous braggadocio: “Before Patriot and FISA we would have to allege facts to establish it was likely a crime had been committed, but no more!” Ultimately, readers will be drawn to Mathewson’s enthralling subject matter, but they’ll crave more fluid pacing and engaging dialogue.
An intriguing, though slightly undercooked, post-9/11 pulse-pounder.