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By (September 1, 2008) No Comment

The Last Patriot
By Brad Thor
Atria Books, 2008

Let me tell you why you shouldn’t read this book. For starters, The Last Patriot is on the bestseller list, which ought to raise a red flag, and its author Brad Thor has a goofy porn star name. Maybe you’re not yet dissuaded, so let’s say you examine the dust jacket: “In a pulse-pounding, adrenaline-charged tour de force [sic], Navy SEAL turned covert Homeland Security operative Scot Harvath must race to locate an ancient secret that has the power to stop militant Islam dead in its tracks.” Of course it sounds like the most ridiculous thing you’ve ever heard, but what you should actually be doing (aside from putting the book down) is toasting the publisher’s marketing division for their prudence in telling you so little. The actual plot is impossibly sillier.

God help you if you’ve actually gone past this stage and plunked down real money for this monopoly book (It’s my job, what’s your excuse?). The Last Patriot is outing number seven in the adventures of Scot Harvath, Olympic skier turned Secret Service agent turned covert one-man anti-terrorist force. This time around he becomes embroiled in a fight which pits the forces of American righteousness against a covert network of Islamic fundamentalists in a bid to acquire the final revelation of Muhammad, hidden away from the world after he was murdered. This revelation enjoins Muslims everywhere to beat their swords into ploughshares and live in peace with the rest of the world, so it’s pretty important that the good guys get their hands on it first. To find this dazzling piece of authorial imagination, Harvath and Co must find Thomas Jefferson’s first edition copy of Don Quixote. You see, when Cervantes was captured by Barbary pirates he got word of Muhammad’s revelation through the prison grapevine, and subsequently encoded and hid its whereabouts somewhere within his masterpiece, but only in the rare first edition. Thomas Jefferson, having gone to war with Barbary pirates centuries later, adumbrated George W. Bush in believing radical Islam would be the gravest threat America would ever face and devoted himself to learning everything he could about it. But he didn’t just anticipate George Bush; Thomas Jefferson also read books. He decoded Cervantes’ secret, but was too busy with politics and architecture to find Muhammad’s magical elixir revelation. So he hid the knowledge in a secret diary. I’ll bet you didn’t know this, but every President keeps a secret diary, and they’re preserved through the ages for successors so they can be consulted in times of need or wars on terror. Harvath, going through a horde of Islamic goons and one ex-CIA assassin turned Muslim convert, must find Don Quixote.

Radical Islam also has an ally: multicultural, politically-correct liberals. This group of traitors – their existence a sure sign of American decline – gives aid, comfort, and legal representation to a subterranean rat’s nest of Muslim charities and Islamic studies programs that have allowed jihadists to chip away at the Constitution in order to install Sharia law (the evidence of this is “chilling” instead of hilarious for our protagonists). One of the terrorists – a mouthpiece for Thor, as all the characters are at one point or another – helpfully explains this to another:

The American people will never allow a Muslim witch hunt. Islamophobia, remember? …You overestimate the people of this nation. They are soft and stupid. The reason political correctness and multiculturalism exists is because they are too lazy to hold others to what it once meant to be an American.

In their path stands Harvath and “his handsome, rugged face, sandy brown hair, bright blue eyes, and muscular five-foot-ten frame.” Thor describes his characters with the subtlety of a hospital chart: for everyone we have the height, weight, hair and eye color. All of the women are tall and “attractive” (or “very attractive”); all the good guys love dogs. Each person has one defining characteristic and acts accordingly, except for Scot Harvath, whose emotions range from anger to patriotism. And love for his dear Tracy, a bomb expert who lost an eye and some of her face in a earlier adventure. Here she’s been improbably repaired to near-catwalk beauty, no doubt by a fiercely patriotic plastic surgeon.

As the novel opens, Harvath – disgruntled from a previous episode – has hung up his gyroscope-stabilized machine guns and gone to Paris to live with Tracy. A chance encounter with a café bombing pulls him into the mystery, and he’s miffed. Just when he thought he was out, the radical Muslim fundamentalists pull him back in. But America comes first, and love of country leads Harvath back into the struggle for freedom. There follows the aforementioned plotline. But fear not its inanity and the specter of confusion! Fear not liberal propaganda! Thor wouldn’t steer you wrong.

There are 336 pages and 91 chapters, less than four pages each. Huge blank swathes of dead tree separate them, so we’re really talking about less than 250 pages of actual words, with short three-line paragraphs and plenty of rest stops in between. When the action gets too pulse-pounding or when the bad guys look like they might win, you can pause and say the pledge of allegiance.

As for historical background, Thor’s done his homework, seamlessly weaving the necessary details into his adrenalin-charged tapestry, like Betsy Ross stitching stars into the first American flag. Pausing between a shootout in a hotel and a shootout with the ex-CIA Muslim convert assassin, a hapless professor (he’s a Democrat with a Clinton/Gore t-shirt) gives a history lesson, and Thor doesn’t want you to wonder why: “Most Americans were unaware of the fact that over two hundred years ago, the United States had declared war on Islam, and Thomas Jefferson had led the charge. For that reason, Professor Nichols felt it important to set the backdrop for what he was working on.” Five pages of exposition follow.

Ah, “war on Islam.” Here’s something that recurs throughout the book. The author gives us asides about the peace-loving majority of Muslims and gives us Muslim good guys – and obvious and ironic capitulation to political correctness – but he keeps confusing his terms, or more likely his thoughts. “Islam” and “Muslims” and “Islamists” and “Islamic fundamentalists” are all used interchangeably. Thor probably didn’t mean for this to come out so blatantly, but it’s to be expected when you have incompetent editors and an empty toolbox inside your cranium. One imagines this is the sort of tripe forgotten British genre-hacks were writing before the sun set on their Empire. Edward Said’s corpse is stirring.

Thor sees no need to put you to work deciphering the trenchant social commentary buried in the text. Here he his lecturing the reader on why Muslim goons can roam our campuses stalking fine Americans like Scot Harvath:

It was a beneficial side effect of the 9/11 attacks that while Americans might be more suspicious of people who appeared to be Muslim, they had tied themselves in such politically correct knots that even campus police, fearing professional and personal discrimination lawsuits, would think four times before questioning someone who looked like Rafiq or Hamza. As a result, the two Saudi hit men had been able to roam the UVA campus with impunity.

Here’s Thor explaining why it’s okay for the CIA to carry out domestic operations (which it’s legally forbidden from doing): “It didn’t matter that what they did, they did for the greater good. The press and a majority of the morons in Congress were constantly busy tearing them new assholes and painting them as monsters.” More diamond chippings from the master’s workshop are littered throughout.

Now, if all this isn’t reason enough to run away from this book, if you still crave cliché, grade-school characterization, clumsily-hidden racism, and sweaty descriptions of military hardware – well then I’ve got my trump card: Harvath’s nemesis (the Muslim convert assassin) kills his bosses in a pique of moral indignation, kills his boss’ shadowy boss and self at the same time, Harvath is reunited with his girlfriend (who spent the book in the hospital with a migraine), and the good guys receive Muhammad’s peace-advocating last testament in the mail from the dead Muslim convert assassin, after having believed it destroyed. The End.

Greg Waldmann is a native New Yorker living in Boston with a degree in International Affairs.

On to #4, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski

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