By Stuart Woods
Thorndike Large Print, 2009, 423 pages
Reviewed by Israel Drazin - July 15, 2009
Stuart Woods composed 49 excellent mystery books, a volume on travel and a memoir. His novels frequently offer either Stone Barrington, Holly Barker, Will Lee or Ed Eagle as their principal protagonist. The primary players in Mounting Fears are the president of the United States and his wife, the head of CIA, although Holly Baker has a role in the novel as well as Lance Cabot, who also has a small role in some of Woods' prior books. Lance is now the assistant director of operations for the CIA, under the president's wife, and Holly is his special assistant.
This novel contains four chief plots that are interwoven in an interesting, smooth, suspenseful and expert manner. One concerns the impending election for president of the US. How can the democratic president beat a younger, seemingly more vibrant republican contender? What can the president do to stop an African American preacher running for president and siphoning off his needed votes?
A second problem is Taliban terrorists who snatch an atomic bomb in Pakistan. Will the Pakistani government be capable of recapturing the bomb? Can they seize it before the terrorists have an opportunity to ignite the bomb? Should American troops violate Pakistani sovereignty and get involved? How will the terrorist act affect the presidential election in America?
A third issue is the death of the vice president. Who should be chosen as his successor? Is the replacement telling the truth that he and his wife are divorcing amicably and that he has no sexual affairs? What happens if a muckraking tabloid starts investigating the vice president designee?
A fourth fear is the reappearance of Teddy Fay, the cunning retired CIA operative turned assassin; he was thought to be dead. Can his reappearance hurt the president in his reelection? Who will Fay try to kill now?
Woods has an interesting and engaging writing style. He generally places several ideas in a single sentence, giving the book a fast pace and somewhat humorous sense. An example is: "He turned around and drove south at thirty miles an hour and saw not a soul until he reached the turnoff for the inn, where he saw a man filling potholes on the narrow road."
The fact that Woods' book is such a delightful read, raises the question: what makes a book such as that of Charles Dickens, Ernest Hemmingway, Anthony Trollope and William Faulkner lasting classics, while mystery novels by people like Robert Ludlum, Jonathan Kellerman and Michael Palmer, while enjoyable, do not last.
Holden Caulfield in J. D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye said the test of a good book is whether, when you finish it, you wished the author was a very close friend who you could telephone at home. This is a clever response, but it is probably not true.
Good classical literature has depth and scope. Readers penetrate the profundity of the character, and the disclosure is relevant today though decades, centuries and even millennia have passed. There is also a horizontal display. Reader see a clear view of society and its mind-set, and can compare it with what they know of society today, and they feel that they have been given new insights. Dickens' Oliver Twist is an example.
These traits are missing in mystery novels. A good mystery novel has a crime, preferably a murder. It should present a new and clever idea, give its readers a sense of relevance and surprise, and draw them into thinking of ways to resolve the mystery and/or solve the crime. It should read well, smoothly, as if the readers are floating along on clear water on a spring day, over waves, but with nothing that jars them from enjoying the water delights.
Mounting Fears accomplishes all of these things. Virtually every reviewer will feel compelled to say, "I wish I could have written this book or another novel as well as this one."
Dr. Israel Drazin is the author of a series of books on Maimonides, a twelfth century rational philosopher, and the co-author of a series of books on Targum Onkelos, the earliest existing translation of the Hebrew Bible. Both are published by Gefen Publishing House, www.israelbooks.com.