Friday, June 20, 2008

Robert Ferrigno's "Prayers for the Assassin" Book Review

I blogged about this novel recently when wondering if it's only speculation about, thirty years from now, an Islamic Republic's takeover of most of the U.S. after "The Zionist Betrayal" takes out DC, NYC, and Chicago with nuclear weapons and Mecca's tainted for a millennium hence with a dirty bomb. Not my usual fare, but it's an intriguingly imagined, deftly plotted, and only momentarily plodding theological thriller. Allah does not enter the deadly realm of assassins for a modern Old Man of a mountain, but its shadow warriors, spies, and double-crossers evoke familiar elements of cat-and-mouse games while placing them within a vividly rendered West Coast America.

This portrayal allows Ferrigno to gradually enrich the background without getting too bogged down in exposition. It's a little long, but the scope of the new world order the novel's inhabitants have learned to navigate over three decades of immense change needs time for the author to elaborate, and then to place his chases and intrigues within this meticulously drawn society. Flashbacks necessarily convey key "historical" information. The cast of characters once in a while kept me hazy as to who was doing what, but this may be due to my own lack of experience with this genre rather than any fault on Ferrigno's part. Chapters often scatter the settings. He moves the scenarios around as if he's making a film, manages to control the dialogue for verisimilitude, and has a lot of fun with his details of how most of America would fare under a Muslim theocracy where, no less than earlier Christian or Jewish lands, "moderns" battle if more steathily with fundamentalists. Best not to mention the fates of Jews, unbelievers, or those pursuing certain alternative lifestyles.

Most of the Christians have fled into the Bible Belt, and after another Civil War, the Catholics now become the despised underclass under an Islamic rule of varying clout. Nevada's Free State gets rich off of everyone else as a pleasure zone. Ferrigno saves his best chapter for a decayed Disneyland where "rent-wives" troll Little Nemo's ride for customers, and where one sets up shop in the shark's mouth.

A few small details regarding Catholicism were incorrect, unless the Church changed radically by 2035. It's doubtful any man could have been ordained in what would have been our own present-day times at 21; similarly that a nun would beat a girl, at length, for a casual joke made in religion class in an American suburb these days. Nuns do not wear cassocks, only priests. And nuns do not live in rectories, so how a character can hide in one if the convent where she lived comes under search confused me.

Ferrigno keeps his cleverness in check, although his sheer delight in running with this tale becomes infectious. Cynicism permeates these pages. Room for social commentary, cultural satire, crude put-downs, and basic page-turning adventure means a pared-down prose that, while not calling attention to itself, shows skill. I also sensed the author in this line about the chief of the Assassins: "He lacked sobriety in the deepest sense, which is to say, he was often amused at the world and at himself." (284) It's a thought-provoking entertainment, too. His endnote acknowledges Simone de Beauvoir's remark that generated Ferrigno's "debt" for "the inception of this book." She responded to a journalist who asked her "how it felt to have created a body of work that negated the existence of God." De Beauvoir answered: "One can abolish water, but one can not abolish thirst." (399)

This book spawned a sequel, "Sins of the Assassin." That means more of Rakkim, Sarah, and who knows whom will keep readers eager for the next installment. Ferrigno's created a marvelously sinister world of enough hi-tech gadgets to convince us that the bad guys will keep pace despite or because of terrorism and a regression into enforced piety and mass coercion. The prices, however, of a snow dome or a coffee and croissant appeared not to keep up with inflation, and if anything may have decreased slightly. Yet, the economy in much of the Islamic Republic's tottering. Perhaps we will learn more about the reasons in the next story. At least the oil prices came down.

(Posted to Amazon today.)

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