The Panther isn’t a panther. He’s a terrorist. But he’s not just another terrorist, if there is such a thing.
He was one of the men behind the bombing of the USS Cole docket in Aden in 2010. He’s intelligent, crafty and ruthless, and he’s building an Al Qaeda network in Yemen. He’s also an American citizen, the son of Yemeni immigrants who want nothing to do with the path he has chose but have sued to prevent U.S. agents from assassinating him.
John Corey is one of those U.S. agents. He’s a former New York City cop who works for the Anti-Terrorism Task Force. He too is intelligent, crafty and ruthless. He’s the narrator of this tale and a bit of a maverick. He’s also cocky, cynical, insubordinate and at times, laugh-out-loud funny.
He’s married to an FBI agent named Kate Mayfield, who’s also part of the task force and does what she can to rein her husband in.
John and Kate are tapped for the assignment to find and bring back the Panther, dead or alive. John wants him dead. It so happens that the Panther also wants John – and Kate – for their roles in killing an infamous Libyan terrorist named Asad Khalil, aka the Lion. In short, the Panther and John are on each other’s Most Wanted lists.
John knows his and his wife’s role in a mission to Yemen, a mission that includes other useful individuals, isn’t quite to find the Panther, a nearly impossible task in Yemen’s desolate areas. Rather, it’s to allow the Panther to find them.
After all, the Panther and al Qaeda have infiltrated every organization and place worth infiltrating – the army, the national police, diplomatic missions, hotels, souks and the like.
As for the U.S. eyes, they’re mostly in the sky in the form of Predator drones. They’re not just capable of watching, they’re adept at killing without warning.
John, Kate and another member of their party, a diplomat named Paul Miller, realize that the Panther might not be their only adversary. They don’t trust the CIA agent whom they don’t meet until after they land in Yemen.
He’s a dedicated spook who’s indicated that he’s more than willing to sacrifice members of the team to accomplish the mission. They’re worried not just about the double-cross but triple cross as well.
The intrigue starts early and accelerates in Yemen as John and Kate make a point of being seen by people likely to report to the Panther.
During their quest they travel by convoy from Sana’a, Yemen’s capital, to Aden, where the Cole was damaged and 17 sailors killed by the Panther’s suicide crews.
They survive an ambush relatively unscathed largely because the ambushers are blown to bits by Hellfire missiles fired from Predators.
Then, with the help of a Bedouin warlord who doesn’t like al Qaeda on his ancient turf any more than he wants Americans or crooked Yemeni political leaders, John’s party sets a trap for the Panther.
“The Predator” is a superb story by a masterful storyteller. Nelson DeMille has done his homework - on the intelligence agencies involved and on Yemen’s history, geography and internal politics.
Here in the United States we read of Predator strikes in Yemen. This story makes them — as well as the people who direct them and die in them — real.
DeMille has written novels, several of which, including “The Lion” and “Plum Island,” have sat at the top of then New York Times bestseller lists.
Walt Braun is the editorial editor for the Manhattan Mercury and a Manhattan resident.