In Vesterberg’s debut novel, an Army major in an undercover terrorist-targeting program has a change of heart about America’s role in the world.
Vesterberg skillfully portrays Maj. Bob Faller, who travels overseas to interview an informant but finds that the bloodied, dying man is Mahmoud, an old friend. In the tradition of political/military thrillers, Faller is hellbent on learning what went wrong with this “asset.” His investigation leads him to Florida to see billionaire Sheldon Orelson, a former strip-club owner who’s also an amateur astronomer. Orelson tells him about the Roche Limit, the moment one celestial body comes close enough to another to be torn apart by it, thus ceasing to exist independently. It’s a none-too-subtle analogy for “the powers that be.” Tension builds until Faller finds his boss’s body at their office in Virginia. Though it appears the obese boss choked on his KFC, Faller suspects a different kind of foul play and finds a memory card in the man’s throat. He grabs it and goes on the run. So is he a patriot or a traitor? No matter, for most readers will see him as a bigot. This modern-day Archie Bunker sees women as unfit for the military, blacks as perpetually aggrieved, Jews as Holocaust-obsessed and liberals as “graying hippies.” It’s no surprise Faller’s marriage is shaky or that he doesn’t have a good relationship with his daughter, who happens to run the Chicago campaign office of the “African Muslim Communist” running for president. Halfway through the book, the momentum sputters when a serious health challenge makes Faller re-examine his life, apparently forsaking some of his bigotry. Yet his change of heart doesn’t ring true, as he abandons lifelong beliefs, even voting for “the Communist.” Whatever his voting preferences, the social commentary distracts from an otherwise engrossing tale, especially when the racism goes off the rails: “With their ball caps turned sideways, the jungle bunnies jig towards their subsidized housing on the other side of the interstate. They look really excited—as if they were on their way to swing from Lady Bird’s chandeliers, stink up the Oval Office with drug-laced Black & Milds and stain James Madison’s chairs with their foul-smelling, greasy hair products.”
A well-written yet off-base thriller that would benefit from more plot and less stereotyping.