Onyx reviews: The Last
Patriot by Brad Thor
The Last Patriot is the seventh novel featuring Scot Horvath, a former
navy SEAL who worked for Homeland Security until U.S. President Rutledge
released a group of detainees from Guantanamo Bay against Horvath's counsel.
Disillusioned by Rutledge's actions, Horvath hung up his covert operative
hat and is on vacation with his girlfriend Tracy when the book opens.
By the greatest of coincidences, he and Tracy, a former Navy demolitions
specialist disfigured during an assassination attempt, are sitting at an outdoor
café in Paris when suspicious behavior around a parked car catches his
attention. Operating on years of intuition, Horvath tackles the intended victim
of a car bomb and saves his life. Just when he thought he was out, they drag him
back in. Suddenly, he is involved in a race for a rare
book with global implications.
The object of the chase is a first edition copy of Don Quixote in
which Thomas Jefferson allegedly hid clues to the location of an important
document—the final revelation (or sura) of the angel Gabriel to the prophet
Mohammed, the apocryphal last chapter of the Koran, missing since it was first
written down nearly 1500 years ago.
The Koran is the collected revelation of Mohammed. Believers say that it is a
perfect document, directly recording the Word of God. Any contradictions among
the suras are settled by the policy of abrogation. Later verses take precedence
over earlier ones. This final revelation, then, which supposedly advocates
harmony with people of other religions, would negate any of the earlier texts
used as justification for jihad. Publication of this document would instantly
put an end to Islamic extremism and the world would suddenly become a much more
This is the shaky framework on which Thor builds the novel. Horvath is the
all-American hero, as resourceful as MacGyver, as indestructible as Jason
Bourne. Once he starts piecing together what he's gotten himself into, he makes
his peace with the president and essentially takes over the quest.
His adversaries are a group of Muslim extremists who will do anything to keep
the final revelation from coming to light. Their point man is Matthew Dodd, a
former CIA assassin who faked his death, converted to Islam, took the name Majd
al-Din and became a hitman for Islamic extremists. Dodd is infinitely
resourceful and virtually unbeatable, ahead of the game at every step. The only
thing that prevents him from succeeding in his mission is the fact that his
handlers insist on sending messages. It's not enough for them to kill a person;
the assassination has to be accompanied by a big explosion that draws attention
to the cause. The motivation for Dodd's defection is vague, as is an about-face
that takes place later in the book.
The American characters believe that extremists are infiltrating the country,
intending to topple the government using the Constitution and existing laws. The
author, through his characters, suggests that, while all Muslims aren't
terrorists, all terrorists, without exception, are Muslims. The book mixes in
enough real history (the Paris riots from a few years ago, for example) to blur
the line between reality and fabrication.
The Last Patriot seems carefully crafted to exploit anti-Islamic
sentiment in the post-9/11 world. The author is quick
to remind readers that Cervantes spent time in a Muslim prison (without
mentioning that Don Quixote is generally sympathetic in its portrayal the world
of Islam), and that America's first war waged on foreign soil was against
Muslims from the Barbary Coast in the late 18th century.
Thomas Jefferson was the U.S. Minister to France at the time. During his
negotiations with the pirates who were extorting ships transiting the North
African coast, he came into possession of the Don Quixote first edition and,
according to legend, the final revelation. He supposedly thought he and John
Adams could use the threat of discrediting their religion as a negotiating tool
against the ambassador to Tripoli.
Brad Thor appears to be trying to cross the high-tech espionage thriller of
Robert Ludlum with the treasure-hunt conspiracy novels of Dan Brown. Thor has
clearly done his research into weaponry and gadgetry, but technology doesn't
replace storytelling. Thor has problems maintaining point of view within scenes,
and resorts to "told characterization" rather than using actions to
allow readers to learn about the characters. He also relies heavily on
improbable coincidence. Every time Horvath and his colleagues are about to
accomplish something important, readers can be assured that Dodd will figure out
what's about to happen and show up at the eleventh hour to create a conflict or
a setback. It also seems like Thor can't figure out how to fit Horvath's
girlfriend into the fray, so he concocts a ploy to take her out of the action. Her
presence isn't missed.
Late in the game, the book kicks into puzzle-solving mode a la National
Treasure, but a nagging question hangs over the plot as it proceeds to the
climax. Horvath believes Islamic extremism is the greatest threat to the world
in general and to the US in particular. How can he continue to fight
terrorism in another book if he finds and exposes the sura? Since
Thor postulates this as a world-altering event, where would he go from there?
The distinction between being anti-Islamist and anti-Islam is difficult to
discern at times. Thor has reportedly received death threats because of this
book's implication that the Koran is a flawed work of men rather than perfect
divine revelation. In interviews he has taken a moral high ground—someone has to
be brave enough to tell the truth in the face of political correctness, he
says—but it feels like a gimmick to cause controversy and heighten
awareness...of this book. Challenging religious belief is always controversial,
as Brown discovered with The Da Vinci Code. It's a little like raising
the threat of the Red Menace during the Cold War—an easy target.
The book stumbles to a conclusion without really answering the question
implicitly posed by the title. Who is the last patriot? Perhaps it's meant to
bookend the previous novel, The First Commandment, but there are many
patriots in this novel, all determined to save the world—and America—from its
supposed greatest threat.
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