Have you ever read a novel that seemed tailor made for the media cyclone of current events? Ever read a work of fiction that deftly tapped into the fears and machinations of an entire country? Ever read one that did all of that three years ahead of time? Well the 2009 thriller The Deadfall Project is just that book. In a time when tensions with
Iran and seem to be coming to a head, The Deadfall Project explores what could happen if it were proven that such a rogue state had obtained a nuclear bomb and intended to use it. The author of this timely novel is Brett James, a filmmaker and author from North Korea . James was kind enough to sit down to discuss a mashup of literature, politics, and publishing, which you can find here. As for the book, it goes a little something like this: San Francisco, California
Grey Stark, an aging CIA company man, is a relic from the cold war (and the proud owner of a name worth of a James Bond villain). He was once the station chief in
, the single-most active region for espionage after WW II. He was also the mastermind behind the bloodiest operation against the Soviets of the cold war. In spite of this legacy—or perhaps because of it—he’s been sidelined in Berlin for the last dozen years. Nothing ever happens in France . All of the real work is in the France Middle East. That’s where the action is. The only thing for an aging CIA man to do in is count the years until forced retirement. That is, until a nuclear device is discovered planted beneath a Paris bank. All signs point to an Iranian terrorist group as the culprits, which immediately ratchets up tensions between the France U.S., it’s allies, and . Iran
It quickly becomes evident to Grey that things aren’t as they seem. The Iranian connection seems tenuous, and he finds out that the bomb was none other than the infamous Deadfall Project. Back when he was station chief in
, scores of agents on both sides of the wall died trying to keep the plans for the Deadfall device out of Soviet hands. Grey used a car to run down a Russian agent in the middle of no man’s land to retrieve the last copy of the plans and burned them himself. A newly minted NATO intelligence agency has also taken over the investigation and seems hell bent on following the Iranian link. With his soon-to-be-ex-wife by his side (James really stacks the deck against this guy, doesn’t he?) Grey turns to some of his old nemeses from the Cold War to try to find out where the bomb could have come from. Berlin
But it’s never as simple as all that. If it was, we wouldn’t have nearly as good of a storey. Complications arise when Grey’s attempts to reach out to the Russian agents get him noticed by his own intelligence people. His previous involvement with the Deadfall Project implicates him further, and soon enough he finds himself caught up in a frame designed to paint him as a traitor. Add to that a mysterious hitman trying to kill him at every turn, a world marching inexorably to war, and a wife he can’t decide to whether to kiss or to throttle, and Grey finds himself in one hell of a mess.
The book couldn’t be more perfect for today’s political climate. It seems as though hardly an hour goes by on the 24 hour news channels that there isn’t some mention of
As far as the writing itself, the things that stood out to me the most were the metaphors and the imagery. James is extremely gifted in this regard. He paints his characters and scenes vividly, so much so that I could easily picture them in my mind’s eye. And the French settings and landmarks are cast such amazing detail that I could easily imagine myself there. Reading The Deadfall Project was very much like watching a movie—which makes sense, given the author’s history as a film maker. But more than that, he uses a plethora of artful metaphors to punctuate his descriptions, lending them power and poignancy they would not have had otherwise. I can tell James spent a lot of time and effort in crafting his metaphors, and it was time well spent.
The characters, on the other hand, are par for the course when it comes to your typical thriller. That’s not to say they’re bad. They’re quite good, they just fit the mold we readers have come to expect from our Ludlum-esque thrillers. Honestly, The Deadfall Project is just as good as any of your typical mass market thrillers on the best seller’s list. The plot moves quickly with plenty of action to keep the reader engaged, and the tone and style of the book are at once easily understood and complex enough to add a measure of depth to the narrative. The main character does seem ridiculously indestructible, though. He survives two car crashes (during one of which he bails out of the car going 100 miles per hour), a fractured arm (which later becomes a full-fledged break), broken ribs, a knife wound in the thigh, a triple-tap to the chest from a .45 (OK, he was wearing a kevlar vest, but you get my point), a gunshot to the shoulder, another knife in the leg, and still manages to dispatch the baddie in one last ditch effort. And did I mention the irate almost-ex-wife? Yeah, there is no kryptonite for this guy. But then again, with all those people trying their damnedest to kill him, I guess it’d require an even bigger suspension of disbelief if he didn’t get a royal beating or two along the way.
Whatever minor flaws the novel might have, they don’t at all detract from its core message, the idea that one man can make a difference in the political dog and pony show that sends nations to war. Through his novel James subtly indicts previous regimes for their trumped up justifications for armed conflict and simultaneously offers a cautionary message against the repetition of those same mistakes in the rising conflict with
and other “rogue nations.” Overall I give The Deadfall Project four out of five stars. Iran