Debut author Mintz presents a contemporary twist on the classic thriller: A Muslim sleeper agent has infiltrated a modern American college campus, but he’s unlikely to be suspected of terrorism because he’s a lecherous, alcoholic professor and a failed novelist.
Opening shortly after 9/11, the novel suggests that it will be a thriller centered on the struggle between professor Luther and campus police Chief Charles Collins, who discovers his secret identity. Unbeknownst to everyone, Luther Fama is a sleeper agent from Iraq with close ties to Saddam Hussein. Early on, however, the plot takes a sharp and unexpected turn: The second half is compromised solely of Luther’s journals, a deranged series of allegorical ramblings about American culture. Some readers might be disturbed by the journal entries’ violence and extremely sexualized nature. In effect, lingering on Luther’s perversion and madness serves to derail the narrative. Luther’s secret past in Iraq is quickly revealed to Collins by a third character, which lessens the plot’s urgency and foreshadows the ruin of Collins’ more accessible point of view. Instead, the pervasive use of sexualized detail seems more jarring than vital or beneficial to the plot. A dead woman’s lack of underwear warrants a mention; Luther even describes molesting his daughter’s childhood playmate. Despite the compelling plotline, readers will perhaps find the odious professor’s point of view, which comprises all of part two, a bit too much to handle.
Potentially a startling 21st-century update of The Manchurian Candidate, but the fiery premise loses focus by delving too deeply into a sick criminal mind.