The Last Days

Title:                      The Last Days

Author:                  Joel C. Rosenberg

Rosenberg, Joel C. (2003). The Last Days. New York: Forge


Date Updated:  March 9, 2013

It’s the near future. Osama bin Laden is dead; so are Saddam Hussein and his sons. Al-Qaeda and the Taliban have been wiped out. Iraq is in ruins, and it’s up to Jon Bennett, the U.S. president’s senior advisor, to find a way to rebuild it. Central to this effort is a “massive and spectacular tract of oil and natural gas” discovered in the Mediterranean, a source of wealth that could bring peace to the Middle East. But will 81-year-old Yassar Arafat let peace reign? That becomes a moot point when Arafat is assassinated by a suicide bomber, and the hero, Bennett, is suddenly all that stands between peace and global destruction.

Rosenberg’s sequel to the bestselling The Last Jihad (2002) is a near-clone of its predecessor: an action-packed Clancy-esque political thriller with paper-thin characters. Presidential envoy Jon Bennett returns as the protagonist, along with his bodyguard and love interest, Erin McCoy, an “Uzi-toting, Arabic-speaking CIA supermodel.” Their efforts to broker a Middle East peace, whose centerpiece is a fortuitously discovered deep oil reserve with the potential to make every Israeli and Palestinian wealthy, are literally blown to pieces when a suicide bomber claims the life of the U.S. secretary of state and Yasser Arafat himself.

The surviving members of the American delegation, along with the Palestinian and Israeli entrepreneurs behind the oil-drilling venture, are scrambling frantically to escape from the Gaza Strip when civil war breaks out among the factions grappling to succeed Arafat as leader. Meanwhile, the sinister forces behind the attack seek to wreak further havoc by dispatching teams of terrorists to America while provoking the Israeli government to trigger a wider conflagration by invading the West Bank and Gaza. The author singularly fails to suspend readers’ disbelief with his baffling decision to set the action in the year 2010 while simultaneously placing real-life events from 2003 such as the invasion of Iraq and the appointment of Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) as Palestinian prime minister seven years in the future. His efforts to make the book a relevant, “ripped-from-the-headlines” tale are already dated-the real Abu Mazen resigned his post-and the fantasy solution to the intractable political conflict by a deus ex machina will strike many readers as silly.

Like the first Jon Bennett novel, The Last Jihad (2002), this one is a timely tale of political intrigue and international terrorism. That’s the good thing. The bad thing is that (also like its predecessor) the novel features stilted dialogue, crudely drawn characters, and a generally clunky narrative style. The author is clearly an expert in international politics, but his skills as a storyteller have yet to be revealed.

When Eight Bells Toll

Title:                      When Eight Bells Toll

Author:                  Alistair MacLean

MacLean, Alistair (1966, 2011). When Eight Bells Toll. New York: Sterling

LCCN:    2011501291

PR6063.A248 W48 2011


Date Updated:  October 14, 2015

I believe I have read almost all, if not every, book written by MacLean. This book is another one MacLean fans consider a classic. The story is good Alistair MacLean, written during his best years. It has all the edge-of-the-seat suspense, and dry humor that millions of readers have devoured for years. It has enough staying power that it was republished again in 2011.

Millions of pounds in gold bullion are being pirated in the Irish Sea. Investigations by the British Secret Service, and a sixth sense, have bought Philip Calvert to a bleak, lonely bay in the Western Scottish Highlands. But the sleepy atmosphere of Torbay is deceptive. The place is the focal point of many mysterious disappearances. Even the unimaginative Highland Police Sergeant seems to be acting a part. But why? British secret agent Phillip Calvert leads the battle against modern-day pirates as searches for hijacked bullion ships in the Scottish Highlands.

Calvert is aided (and hindered) in his quest by fellow secret agent Hunslett, aging spymaster Uncle Arthur, and former actress Charlotte Skouros. But his requests for help from the local community are constantly thwarted. What is the secret the citizens of Torbay are hiding, and what has it to do with a Greek shipping tycoon and his mysterious associates?

The Fourth Protocol

Title:                      The Fourth Protocol

Author:                   Frederick Forsyth

Forsyth, Frederick (1985). The Fourth Protocol. New York: Viking

LCCN:    83040646

PR6056.O699 F6 1984

Date Updated:  October 14, 2015

The Cambridge Four continue today to stir conspiracy theories and inspire endless novels. I have read several books and seen many movies about those four. At the heart of most of the books is Kim Philby.

The Fourth Protocol is a cold war spy story. Kim Philby, a traitor to the UK and a deserter, lives in Russia. He and Russian officials hatch a plot to destabilize the West or even cause revolution. If the plot works, many will die and the alliance between the UK and the USA will be broken. Russia dispatches an agent to the UK, who can pass for an Englishman to work on the plan.

John Preston works with the intelligence agency of the UK government. He is very able, but not much appreciated by his superior. He becomes aware, by accident, that foreign agents are in the country, planning a big coup, but is not sure what it is. The plot consists mainly of his efforts to gather information and put all the pieces together. Not only does Preston have to deal with foreign agents, there are those in his own government whose motives he cannot be sure of and who seem to interfere with the plans to find out what is going on.

Forsyth does his research. He fills his novels with historically accurate details that give so much life to his writing. He is also master of the suspense novel. With spies as his main characters, and intelligence gathering guiding his plot, it is the perfect book for me. No wonder I loved the movie made of the book.

The New York Times (Michiko Kakutani, August 30, 1984) says of the book: “THEY would not really try it, would they?” thinks a senior British Intelligence officer. “Not breach the Fourth Protocol? Or would they? Desperate men sometimes take desperate measures.” Well, of course they’d try—this is a Frederick Forsyth novel, after all. And besides, who cares about probability, anyway?

In The Day of the Jackal, Mr. Forsyth wrote about a plot to assassinate Charles de Gaulle—even though de Gaulle had died peacefully a year before the book was published. And in The Odessa File, he wrote about a Nazi plan to liquidate Israel by using rockets filled with bubonic plague.

What, though, is the “Fourth Protocol,” and why do the Russians want to breach it? To begin with, the year is 1987, and technology has progressed to the point at which it’s possible to build a tiny atomic bomb—“small enough to go in a suitcase and simple enough to be assembled from a dozen prefabricated, milled and threaded components, like a child’s construction kit.” Apparently these things are just as bad as big atomic bombs, and in a way more dangerous, because you can destroy your enemy by planting one of them in a locker or an abandoned house—no need to use missiles that might trigger radar or a counterstrike.

Mr. Forsyth’s Russians, however, don’t simply want to bomb Britain. They are far more subtle than that: their plan is to set off a small nuclear explosion that will give credibility to the British antinuclear movement; that, in turn, will bring the Labor Party to power; that, in turn, will enable hard-core leftists to seize power; that, in turn, will make Britain a Marxist state.

Sound complicated? Most of The Fourth Protocol is pure unadulterated plot—unsullied by well-developed characters, moral insights or interesting prose. When the main story bogs down, Mr. Forsyth simply throws in a subplot about office politics inside British Intelligence, or summons an allusion to a real-life event such as the Falkland crisis, or a previous spy scandal. He even gives the traitor Kim Philby a supporting role in the novel—though his role, like that of many others, ends up being little more than a red herring.

The problem with The Fourth Protocol is not that its premise seems silly: Mr. Forsyth has such a knack for describing technical matters like cracking safes and building bombs, and such a deft ability to juggle the sort of little details spies specialize in, that his novel has a strong documentary sense. The problem with The Fourth Protocol is that—unlike some of the author’s earlier books—it becomes predictable, and so lacking in suspense. Halfway through, the reader knows exactly where it’s headed. In the end, in fact, the novel resembles one of Mr. Forsyth’s little atomic bombs—a kit “assembled from a dozen prefabricated, milled and threaded components.”

Report of the President’s Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy

Title:                      Report of the President’s Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy

Author:                 President’s Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy

United States Warren Commission (1964). Report of the President’s Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy. New York: Bantam Books

LCCN:    2010667801

E842.9 .A55 1964c


Date Updated:  October 14, 2015

Nothing much devastated me in my formative years more than the assassination of President Kennedy, November 22, 1963. I was in grad school at the time. Kennedy struck all the right keys within me to create resonance with what he wanted to do and the musical note within me. His death was to me what the death of Franklin Delano Roosevelt was to my parents. I remember the tears my mother shed, fixing me lunch, and listening to the radio broadcast. I was too young to understand it then. It was not until JFK’s murder that I understood her depth of feeling.

When the Warren Commission report became available I immediately ordered it, even on my meager salary of $222.22 per month. (I ordered it from the Government Printing Office.)

The Warren Commission’s findings have been critically assailed since their findings were released in September of 1964, less than a year after the investigation began. Conspiracy theorists called the Commission’s finds a “government whitewash” and contested and derided the findings without end. As a result of the overwhelming trashing by critics, the Warren Commission’s findings have fallen into disrepute. This is unfortunate, as the Commission’s findings and conclusions have stood the test of time. Recently, computer simulations have documented the feasibility and likelihood of the so-called “Magic Bullet” theory, and have virtually proven that Kennedy’s wounds came from the upper reaches of the Texas Schoolbook Depository, where Oswald sat in the southeast corner window of the 6th floor. So, although extensively trashed by critics, the Warren Commission findings have proven the test of time and are a vital component to any serious Kennedy assassination library.

I was impressed with the voluminous hard physical evidence collected by Dallas police and the FBI. Too many conspiracists tend to sweep this evidence under the rug, as much of it contradicts their pet conspiracy theories. Yet, the evidence cannot be so easily swept away, and this is the profound importance of the Warren Commission’s findings. The Commission lays out the evidence in stepwise fashion and comes to the logical (though very controversial) conclusion that Oswald acted alone in killing Kennedy.

This volume is essential to any Kennedy assassination reader, as it lays the groundwork for the assassination discussion. One cannot propose other conspiracy outcomes without having a thorough working knowledge of the Commission’s findings. Get this volume for its information on the evidence, for it is through the evidence that a “murder” case is decided.