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Book Review: Hidden Order

By (July 19, 2013) No Comment

Hidden Orderhidden order

by Brad Thor

Emily Bestler Books (Atria), 2013

“They don’t want you to understand anything about what they’re doing,” we’re told as Brad Thor’s latest slop-pile of a book Hidden Order picks up speed. “It’s purposeful obfuscation and it’s brilliant. They weave a tapestry of BS meant to intimidate people, and it works. Very few Americans have ever really dug into what they are up to.”

Hidden Order is a political thriller, so that dire warning about what they’re doing could apply to just about anybody. The sub-genre of political thrillers is written for and entirely subsidized by the fruitier strata of hysterical American business class paranoia, where slavering, hand-over-fist greed is serially justified by the reinforced idea that shadowy ranks are always arrayed against those heroic souls who skim Brad Thor novels in between designing self-serving Powerpoint presentations and signing off their emails with “Best.”

It could be anybody, then, those shadowy ranks, but this time it’s not the Freemasons or the Vatican but rather an organization just a bit closer to the current fraught financial headlines: the Federal Reserve. And as in all such books as this, the cue goes out almost immediately for blocks of exposition, with one of our heroes going to the requisite Wise Old Man:

“Why do so many people not like the Federal Reserve?”

He took a sip of his drink, deciding where to begin. “First of all, they’re not federal and they don’t have any reserves whatsoever. The Federal Reserve is about as federal as Federal Express. They’re a group of powerful bankers who orchestrated a phony crisis in the early 1900s to convince the American people that the country needed a strong central bank to help regulate the economy and bring Wall Street fat cats to heel. It’s one of the most successful con jobs in history.”

The main hero in these pages is Brad Thor’s recurring tough guy Scot Harvath, a “counterterrorism operative” whose most interesting characteristic is the fact that he only has one ‘t’ in his first name. He and his plucky colleague are teamed up to solve a series of brutal murders that increasingly seem connected not only to the Federal Reserve but also to the colonial Sons of Liberty back in revolutionary Boston. Their teamwork is bumpy at first (“why don’t we bifurcate our work?” he helpfully suggests at one point), but the murders just keep happening, and a small, tightly-managed cast of characters is drawn closer and closer together as Thor heats up his cliches.

It ought to go without saying, but it’s so robustly insistent it has to be mentioned: Thor’s books are just astonishingly bad. Huge plot developments are laboriously introduced and then forgotten; action sequences are so scatterbrained as to be actively boring; morning talk show ranting is trucked in by job lots and then laid out as fact; the killer’s motives don’t connect to his means or methodology; and even on the most basic high school composition level, Thor simply doesn’t know what he’s doing. He tries to make his characters sound Hannibal Lecter-style arch, and the results are always embarrassing:

“Out of respect and professional courtesy, I will not cause you any pain.”

“That is very thoughtful, Samuel. Pain is something neither of us likes, is it?”

“No, doctor, it is not.”

(Sometimes – often, in fact – it’s better when they don’t talk, although not by much: a couple of times we’re told “The man was silent and did not respond” – presumably ruling out clever pantomimes)

Harvath has to consult his smart phone in order to learn about pretty much every major fact of the American Revolution (says here Sam Adams couldn’t stand Thomas Hutchinson), but without any prodding in his bifurcation, he can pop out nuggets like this:

“Pine tar was used in the colonies to preserve wood on sailing ships and to weatherize rope. It was also used for a form of physically and emotionally painful public humiliation called tarring and feathering.”

And even when Thor’s cardboard characters aren’t regurgitating his Wikipedia-foragings, he does plenty of regurgitating on his own, none of it right, none of it innocent, none of it trustworthy. When he moves Harvath to visit the unprepossessing site of the Boston Massacre, it’s not Harvath who muses:

It was one of the least glamorous, but most important stops along Boston’s “Freedom Trail,” a two-and-a-half-mile-long stripe that runs through the city and connects sixteen historically significant sites in the run-up to the Revolutionary War. On that spot, five Bostonians became the first to give up their lives for the cause of American liberty.

And what about that mean old Federal Reserve, you might ask, if by some appalling strength of will you grapple your way to the end of this piece of nonsense? What about the shadow-cabal that underwrites the American financial system?

“We need to allow it to fail. That damn Federal Reserve has done nothing but allow banks to take bigger and bigger risks and whenever they get in over their heads, it’s the taxpayers and their hard-earned money that is used over and over again to bail them out. That needs to stop.”

That’s the President talking, in case you were curious. Time to invest in soy.