Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Guest blogger: Terrorist Thrillers – Like a Box of Choc-o-lates by John Betcher, Author of The 19th Element

Today's special guest is John Betcher, author of the suspense thriller,The 19th Element: A James Becker Nuclear Thriller.

Al Qaeda plans to attack Minnesota’s Prairie River Nuclear Power Plant as a means to return the down-trodden terrorist organization to international prominence.

In addition to their own devoted forces, the terrorists enlist some homegrown anarchists, and a Three Mile Island survivor with a pathological vendetta against the nuclear establishment, to assist in the assault.

James “Beck” Becker is a former elite U.S. government intelligence operative who has retired to his childhood hometown of Red Wing, Minnesota – just six miles down the Mississippi from the Prairie River nuclear facility.

Possessing wisdom born of experience, Beck suspects the terrorists’ intentions as soon as the body of a university professor turns up on the Mississippi shore – the clear victim of foul play.

He recognizes connections between seemingly unrelated incidents – the murdered agronomy professor, a missing lab assistant, an international cell call, a stolen fertilizer truck – but can’t piece it together in enough detail to convince government authorities that a larger threat exists. Only his American Indian friend, “Bull,” will help Beck defuse the threat.

So it’s Beck and Bull versus international terror.

May the better men win.

Terrorist Thrillers – Like a Box of Choc-o-lates by John Betcher

Greetings to all of you following The Book Connection.

I know the title of this post seems a bit of a non-sequitur. But bear with me and let's see where we come out.

Cheryl invited me here to share my views concerning how the events of 9/11 have affected American literature. This is a weighty topic to be sure – but a fair one to ask of me, in particular, since the book I am promoting on my current blog tour is, itself, a terrorist thriller – The 19th Element.

In many ways, the 9/11 attacks represent a fulcrum under American society. Before that date, Americans thought ourselves immune from international terror. Al Qaeda attacks were something that happened in Tanzanian Embassies, or off Yemeni ports. Not in Manhattan.

After 9/11, America was forced to recognize that its perceived invulnerability was a faćade – a figment of our post-Cold War complacency. Once Americans had come to this new understanding, it was no surprise that our new reality began to show up in the writings of American authors. And they had viewpoints as diverse as Forrest Gump’s ‘box of choc-o-lates.'

Probably the first notable work directly addressing the 9/11 attacks was Pattern Recognition, by William Gibson. In the words of reviewer Jeffery Marlow, Gibson’s work of science fiction treats the felling of the World Trade Center as “the end of history – after it we are without a history, careening toward an unknown future without the benefit of a past – our lives before 9/11 are now irrelevant.” Of course, Gibson is known more for his science fiction than his clairvoyancy. But he was the first noted author to take on the post-9/11 terror topic.

In 2006, two-time Pulitzer Prize winning author, John Updike, approached Islamic terrorism from what he imagined to be an Islamic viewpoint. His novel, Terrorist, sympathized with the moral struggles of an eighteen-year-old Muslim boy growing up in America. In many ways, Updike’s young terrorist, Ahmad, is among the most morally upright characters in the story. He seeks only to be true to his faith in Allah . . . the faith of his family. Updike delivers a compelling treatment of the factors that might lead a young Arab man to believe Jihad is required. And Ahmad does, indeed, plot to do harm. But in the end, he decides that Allah would not want him to blow up innocent Americans, and he abandons his genocidal plan.

Don DeLillo, another noted American author, deals with the effects of 9/11 in his 2007 release of The Falling Man. The book tells the story of a Twin Towers survivor and his life after the dread date. On a symbolic level, the story addresses a person’s ability, or inability, to reinvent oneself in the wake of grave trauma. As one might surmise from the book’s title, DeLillo tends toward the pessimistic view. In fact, he was once quoted as saying “all plots tend to move deathward.” (Sheesh! I'm not inviting him over for dinner.)

Since 9/11, there have been scores, if not hundreds, of fine examples of American literature motivated by the author’s views of terror and terrorism. Some authors lament how the Jews have always lived under the same pall that all Americans now share. Others cry out for the lost hopes of youth. Some even dare to espouse an optimistic approach. After all, it has been nearly ten years since the event that rocked the world.

With shoe bombers, underwear bombers, the time square bomber and other small-scale al Qaeda attempts to unnerve Americans, who can blame authors for reflecting society's fears in their writings. Yet the ‘terrorist thrillers’ are many. And the literary creativity of their authors sparse. So much so, in fact, that a respected literary agent recently Tweeted that he was “no longer accepting manuscripts describing al Qaeda terror cells in suburban St. Louis.” Apparently, unless it takes a new perspective on the terror discussion, a ‘terrorist thriller’ has become as mundane as a vampire script on Hollywood Boulevard . . . where it is said you can’t take three steps without being hit by one flying out some agent’s window.

With terrorist thrillers seemingly everywhere, I knew I needed to distinguish my book from the pack. So in The 19th Element, the main character lives in a small Midwestern town next door to a nuclear power plant – a location in which I have personally resided since 1973. The terrorists are al Qaeda-backed. But most were born right here in the U.S., with only a single Muslim among them.

And the overall mood of the book is not apocalyptic or foreboding. Sure . . . there are some thrills. And of course it is true that, but for the actions of my main character, millions might die. But that eventuality doesn’t prevent him from displaying wit, creativity, persistence, preparedness and loving devotion to his wife, as he works to defeat the terrorists’ plot. You'll have to read the book to see how it all comes together.

That ends your American Literature lesson for today! Cheers! John

John L. Betcher is a University of Minnesota Law School graduate and has practiced law for more than twenty-five years in the Mississippi River community of Red Wing, Minnesota. He possesses substantial first-hand knowledge of the Prairie River Nuclear Plant’s real world counterpart, as well as Red Wing’s airport and the flight rules around the nuke plant.

In addition to The 19th Element, he has published a second book in the “Beck” series entitled, The Missing Element, A James Becker Mystery. The second book is available everywhere.

The author has also been a long-time supporter and coach of youth volleyball in and around Red Wing and has authored three feature articles for Coaching Volleyball, the journal of the American Volleyball Coaches Association. His most recent article was the cover story for the April/May, 2009 Issue.

His book on volleyball coaching philosophies entitled The Little Black Book of Volleyball Coaching is available at http://www.johnbetcher.com/ and at http://www.amazon.com/.

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