Weeks’ debut novel follows a single soldier in a fictionalized version of the United States’ 2002 march to war in Iraq.
U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Hank Siemens, after being injured attempting to capture Osama bin Laden, is reassigned to Ouvda air base in Israel—an uneventful post where he must deal with far too many brusque, private military contractors. One such encounter involves a suspicious shipment of aluminum tubing, which unbeknownst to him, has ties to men at the highest levels of the United States government. President Hedge, Vice President Beale and Secretary of Defense Ares—transparent analogues to George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, respectively—need those tubes to be “captured” on their way into Iraq, so that they can expand their war on terror. U.S. Sen. Paul Whitman of Minnesota stands against the administration, backed by Hank’s father, the cancer-stricken Gen. Thomas Siemens, whose own investigation suggests that Iraq has no means to build weapons of mass destruction. When the general dies, only Hank can help the senator—even if saving his country means defying direct orders. Weeks’ debut is a classic story of a man who can choose not to act and reap the rewards of the war-mongers’ spoils, or risk everything by following the righteous examples of his father and Sen. Whitman. The villains are fairly simplistic, depicted as over-the-top, even comically vile, making Hank’s decision seem obvious. But the heroes’ shortcomings ground the novel, with their flaws so closely tied to their greatest strength: the ideal of honor through service. There’s little action here, which is surprising, as the book opens with a firefight. Instead, Weeks chooses to convey most events before and after they occur, through long, exposition-laden conversations. These are made palatable, however, thanks to their charmingly contrasting settings, from darkened White House offices, to bright, outdoor political gatherings. The novel’s slow reveal as an alternate history is cleverly disarming, and the realization that this version of the United States might escape the fate of the real one gives the plot an extra charge of urgency.
An often by-the-numbers political thriller that finds its vigor through its use of all-too-recent American history.