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Review: The Devil’s Light

Richard North Patterson rips a terrorist plot from the headlines — then has it ripped from his hands

Those experiences haunt Chandler in the early going. But as reports emerge about the theft and transport of a nuclear weapon in the region, he realizes that the tormenting episodes have also given him the insight and expertise — and key contacts — needed for a mission to neutralize the terrorist threat.

Brooke’s adversary is longtime jihadist Amer Al Zaroor. Logistically gifted and ideologically single-minded, Al Zaroor masterminds the plan to obtain and detonate the bomb, and he personally shepherds it westward from the India/Pakistan border toward its fateful destination — a terminus that only Chandler seems able to predict.

To his credit, Patterson doesn’t demonize Al Zaroor any more than he glorifies Brooke. The two men are complex and multidimensional characters, not a paper-thin villain opposed by a dashing hero. Though the author’s own politics percolate through the pages (he tilts a tad left), Patterson takes pains to present a wide array of perspectives — geographic, political and philosophic.

That’s a strength and a weakness. The political terrain of the Middle East is intricate, to say the least, and Patterson is commendably intent on exploring and explaining it. But despite his best efforts to furnish brief context on Sunnis, Shias, Maronites, Hezbollah, Fatah al-Islam, Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Palestinian Liberation Organization, Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence, the Mossad, the Falange, the Druze, and other groups, as well as a panoply of individual political leaders and historical figures … well, the list makes its own point: If you’re hazy on the background of these players, The Devil’s Light may leave you hungering for a cheat sheet. Patterson keeps any pedantry grounded in the action, but the information overload occasionally tips the balance too far — as in a kitchen scene consisting of long paragraphs about the hall of mirrors that is Lebanese politics punctuated by snippets of dialogue on how to prepare a salmon glaze: “Let’s serve dinner … Then tell me how they smuggle the bomb.”

Ultimately, The Devil’s Light entertains and educates in nearly equal measure, opening readers’ eyes not just to dark possibilities but to harsh realities that many of us now see only dimly, if it all.

Art Taylor is a regular reviewer of mysteries and thrillers for AARP The Magazine, The Washington Post, and other publications.

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