A Judge, an Irishman and a Hot Dog Vendor go into a Bar by Roderick Brooks

A Judge, an Irishman and a Hot Dog Vendor go into a Bar

KIRKUS REVIEW

A topical, fast-paced thriller that—despite its awkward title—explores the fictional ramifications of the Lockerbie bombing.

Federal judge Randolph Elliott is hoping to reconcile with his daughter, Diana, when she returns to New York after a trip to London. Though the two aren’t close, Diana is coming home for Christmas, and even the judge’s alcoholic wife manages to wake from her stupor to get excited. But the date is December 21, 1988, and Diana boards Pan Am Flight 103. Along with 258 other passengers on the plane, Diana perishes; shortly thereafter, Elliott’s wife kills herself. After he mourns, the judge gets angry. But Elliott knows better than most that there’s little point in suing Pan Am due to an international treaty that bars punitive damages in air-accident lawsuits. The inability to find justice through the courts is particularly galling since, two years before the bombing, Pan Am’s (fictional) former CEO, a Texas-born millionaire named Teddy Bakker, “issued a confidential directive that security be kept to a minimum.” While the judge and other victims’ relatives seethe, the Lockerbie incident prompts action at the highest levels of government through the creation of Olympiad—a fictional “international team, operating alone and covertly, with a mandate outside of the justice system” to target terrorists through their arms-supply pipelines. Will Judge Elliott get his vengeance? Will Olympiad be able to stop the Provisional IRA and Colombian crooks from shipping explosives while simultaneously getting to the bottom of the Lockerbie bombing? The premise is compelling and the locations are vivid, whether the characters are drinking beer at a Florida baseball stadium, gazing at the night sky from an oceanfront home in Libya or fighting traffic in Venezuela. From New York cop Jimmy Kenneally to Sal Luongo (the hot dog vendor mentioned in the title) and the doomed Diana Elliott, who had a bright future as a policy wonk despite her inherited love of the bottle, Brooks’ characters are lifelike and nuanced. However, Brooks spends too much time developing characters that appear only briefly in the novel. When an Olympiad agent encounters an ex-boyfriend from Oxford University—who’s around for only one chapter—readers not only see them flirt, banter and reminisce, but they also learn all about the ex-boyfriend’s studies in anthropology, a recent field trip to New Mexico and an undergrad visit to Papua New Guinea. Lengthy digressions into the family histories and educational backgrounds of minor characters appear frequently, slowing down the otherwise brisk pace of this well-plotted novel.

A globe-hopping thriller that engages and entertains, misleading title be damned.

Page count: 371pp
Publisher: Self
Program: Kirkus Indie
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